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.

Three Black Dogs

I have not always been grateful for my sisters, I must admit. I was the first and most important and then they had to come along. The Canadian one, who was English at the time, stole my woolly bear, I remember. When I was twelve she blurted out to Kevin Brewer, a sixteen year old leather-jacketed blond-quiffed motorbike rider who went to the same youth club as me – that I had just used some white stuff to bleach my moustache. (I hasten to add, not a great whiskery handlebar moustache or anything grotesque – I’m just, you know, a brunette… well, now I’m more of a grey-with-brunette-undertones).

I had a massive crush on Kevin Brewer. I used to sit at the bottom of his garden and pine for him hour upon hour until his mother complained to my mother and my mother, irritated, told me not to.  So imagine how pleased I was with my English-at-the-time sister. Not that I ever had any chance with Kevin Brewer. What I finally got a date it was with a bespectacled weed call John-something-or-other. We went for a walk along the sea wall and I was terrified. He told me afterwards he had been dared to ask me out – by Kevin Brewer.

However – gosh, that was as long digression – this evening I was glad of my Canadian sister. She phones me quite a lot at the moment because my brother-in-law has terminal cancer and she is on her own out there. She is even more on her own because he is fed up with her crying all over the place when he just wants to carry on as normal – a different approach. So she was feeling low this morning (it’s morning in Alberta when it’s evening here) and she called me, and we chatted round in circles as usual. We talked about counselling and short-term projects – small goals, easier to cope with. I didn’t know how to reach out across the Atlantic and lift her mood but quite by accident – as you shall see – I did.

In the meantime I had been having one of my Black Dog days. It was something to do with the necessity of spending a whole day being driven round properties with a guy called Gavin on Tuesday – the thought of which was already exhausting me – and the prospect of visiting Mum in the mental hospital on Easter Day. I don’t talk about Black Doggie much – he is manageable. I’ve seen what clinical depression does to people (this is my third lot of psych ward visiting) and my occasional Grim Day is nothing in comparison.

So, I got in the car, in a chilly wind (Storm Kate – don’t they sound nice with names? – is due to hit the South East at midnight). I stopped off at the one-and-only-shop to buy a box of chocolate fingers for Mum, since it’s Easter Sunday. When I got there she didn’t want them. Black Doggie was with her too. Two Black Doggies in one room. She had a headache. I persuaded the nurse to give her some paracetamol. The old lady who sings to me, sang to me again. She eyed the chocolate fingers.

‘I often share my things with your Mum. I expect your Mum would want me to have a chocolate finger. Or two. If she could speak.’ Her eyes never left the box and the tantalising chocolate-finger picture on the packaging. I gave her two. Had to ask the nurse for help getting into the cellophane. He gave me that look, like – shall I reserve you a chair in the Recreation Room now? On the way out I gave her the rest of the packet. ‘That was kind of you,’ said the nurse. ‘It’s not easy, is it? This time?’

So Mum and I sat and held hands, and I lent her my comb because she said hers had disappeared. She had someone else’s trousers on. I told her to keep the comb, but she gave it back. I wrote notes for her. She looked at them and handed them back to me. ‘I’m never getting out of here.’

‘Yes, you are. Soon. It’s a hospital. They can’t keep you for ever.’

‘I don’t believe it. What use am I? The doctors should give me something to get rid of me. What use am I, in here?’ Outside, there were daffodils, and birds flying about. In here, on the wall, was a frieze of spring made of coloured paper and cotton wool, like you see in the classrooms at infants’ school.

So, really, three Black Doggies – the Canadian one, mine and the one sat next to my Mum in the mental ward.

But then my sister phoned and she told me she was thinking of learning shorthand, as one of those short-term projects to cheer herself up. It wasn’t that she needed shorthand, she said, but she liked the shapes it made. She could see it on the wall – like a poem, maybe – and visitors would ask, ‘What do all those squiggles mean?’ And I said that was a weird coincidence – I had only five minutes before ordered a second-hand book on Gregg shorthand, having been reminded of it by an old post on this blog. Mum had had a book on Gregg shorthand – turned out we both remembered it.

And somehow the weirdness, that we should have both thought of learning shorthand, at the same time, all those thousands of miles apart across windswept oceans, lifted her mood. Mine too. She asked me to order the same book for her. We would learn it together, she said, and she would write me letters in Gregg shorthand, and I would write her Gregg shorthand letters back, and she would make artwork using Gregg shorthand, or write a diary that her husband couldn’t read, or…

Once, when we were teenagers, sat in that stuffy suburban living room with our parents and other visiting family, the same funny thing occurred to us both at the same time. It wasn’t a joke. It wasn’t anything anyone had said it was just – an invisible amusement. I caught her eye and she caught mine. I started giggling, and she started giggling. And of course no one else had any idea what we were giggling about – and even we weren’t entirely sure –  which made it funnier still.

It was ten minutes before we could stop, by which time we had the hiccups.

A pelican of the wilderness

(actually written in pencil yesterday evening while my computer was away in the Magic Workshop)

I knew this was going to happen: bound to, really, since my computer is one of my three best friends. Correction, only friends. Pathetic. Just pathetic!

When it gets dark outside and it isn’t a full moon (everything looks better under a full moon); when the cats are fed and all asleep and therefore I might not exist; when the hedgehog and I have surprised one another at the feeding station yet again (we never seem to learn); when the Evening News is over and there’s an hour and a half to go to Stargate: Atlantis; when I need to look up a word or can’t remember the name of a song or the next line of a poem; when I’ve listened to that Jennifer Warnes CD for the third time in a row; when I start thinking about Mum and what away-with-the-fairies disaster she could be involving herself in right now, and I wouldn’t know; when I begin to avoid looking in the mirror in case I see some other woman there; when I feel tempted to fetch yet another bowl of Frosted Wheats from the kitchen even though I know they give me indigestion; when I …

I’ve run out of whens. But whenever any of these ‘whens’ occur, usually I would hobble upstairs, do that little shimmy thing with Mr Mousie to bring the computer back to life and immerse myself in blogging, Amazon-surfing or clicking through those strings of weird photos of People Who Could Not Possibly Exist, Child Stars Who Grew Up Ugly or Worst Plastic Surgery Disasters Ever, that you know are going to be rubbish and will probably send the Internet Security thingy into a fit of little red Xs but somehow cannot resist. But tonight…

Tonight, I am thwarted. Famous Blue Raincoat remains in the CD player and I just can’t seem to get up off the sofa and remove it. She’s got to that creepy one about Joan of Arc again;

  • Well then fire, make your body cold
  • I’m gonna give you mine to hold
  • And saying this she climbed inside
  • To be his one, to be his only bride

If only I could unglue myself this obsessive-compulsive Jennifer-Warnes-playing thing I could put in something less suicide-inducing like Mary Black or James Taylor. An hour or so of tuneless carolling along to James Taylor would change everything; he’s the best possible medicine for attacks of weltschmerz or existential angst. How could you be downhearted whilst singing I fix broken hearts, baby, I’m your handyman or Goodnight you moonlight ladies, rockabye Sweet Baby James to a roomful of sleeping cats?

How loud that central heating sounds. Did the radiators always rattle like something out of A Christmas Carol? Maybe I could wake a cat or two.

Twenty-nine hours. Only twenty-nine hours to wait. What am I going to do?

There’s plenty I could be doing. There’s a green plastic trayful of blog-post ideas, a stack of green and yellow refill pads for writing on and a Shaun The Sheep mug full of perfectly sharpened pencils. There’s that copy of Peter Pan that arrived in the post today, finally. I could be reading that. There’s that strange Christian blockbuster novel I downloaded onto my Kindle on a whim and have hardly started. What is this slight obsession with Christianity at the moment? Just a phase, probably. Or second childhood.

There are Christmas presents I could start wrapping but it’s hard to get in the mood since we’re not even over Halloween yet. If I wanted to I could hoover the living room with my extremely loud, old-fashioned hoover to welcome home my neighbours who – I see from the black hearse parked outside their house – have just returned from their six month sojourn in the South of France either building their dream villa or staying in a friend’s caravan, depending which other neighbours you choose to believe. Oh here we go – word association again:

  • Je suis un rock star
  • Je avais un residence
  • Je habiter la
  • A la south de France
  •  
  • Voulez vous
  • Partir with me?
  • And come and rester la
  • With me in France?
  • Bill Wyman – (Si Si) Je Suis Un Rock Star

I do love Franglais, particularly really determinedly, arrogantly bad Franglais. I believe the French detest it.

My sister just telephoned from Canada. It seems she is suffering a similar sense of dislocation, for different reasons. Her kitchen cabinets have all been ripped out and the fitting of the new ones has been delayed for a day. All she can do is microwave and boil water. All her bits and pieces in cardboard boxes. I keep wandering into my office, seeing screen, keyboard, mouse, printer, router, all in their usual places and wondering vaguely why they won’t still work. Could that dull-looking black box-thing really have been the heart of it all. Cables and plug-in thingies trail onto the carpet like severed arteries.

Most of my life I have been typing. Typing and thinking have become one and the same thing to me. Now the pencil looks strange in my hand and my own handwriting – though surprisingly attractive – seems to belong to someone I used to know.

After a few pages your own hand starts to yell at you. Writing hurts!

I could go out. At least in theory. At least tomorrow, when it gets light. Except where? I could try living some sort of real life for a little while, but what would a real, live person do?

Maybe they would decide to attend the Halloween Extravaganza at the one and only pub this Friday. Someone pushed one of those glossy advertising fliers through my letterbox this afternoon, or rather into my letterbox where it got stuck and concertinaed by those twin brush-things. What are the twin brush-things on letterboxes for, does anybody know? Maybe just to frighten postmen.

I could go if I was prepared to dress up as a witch (little make-up required) or a pumpkin-lady in plus-size orange tights and a cardboard pumpkin body; and if I was prepared to go unescorted into a public house; and if I was happy to abandon the twelve cats to the onslaughts of door-rattling, menacing little trick-or-treat-persons. Were I to do so I might enjoy, according to the flier:

  • Apple Bobbing (check)
  • Mummy Wrap (children permitted to encase female parent in yards of toilet paper, just this once?)
  • Zombie Dancing (would they be importing a bona fide Zombie Dancing troupe to give a demonstration, or would they be selecting Michael Jackson on the jukebox and expecting all present to dance along to Thriller, making those fearsome faces?)
  • Jelly Bobbing (like Apple Bobbing but substituting jelly for water? Isn’t this overkill? I mean, first you get your hair wet then you get a faceful of strawberry jelly)
  • Disco (check)
  • Balloon Games (oh no. I remember balloon games from my youth. Undignified)
  • Beer Pong (Beer Pong? Beer Pong? Like Ping Pong perhaps only with pint mugs flying back and forth?)

Reality makes so very little sense.

Twenty eight hours…

I have become like an owl of the waste places. I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert.

Psalm 102:6

In the kitchen at parties

I never did like parties. Parties don’t suit my miserable, self-conscious, unsociable personality – but sometimes you can’t get out of them. I’ve noticed they get less frequent and more dire in direct proportion to one’s age. I’ve also noticed that my very presence at a party seems to guarantee dismalness…dismality…dismalaciousness…

So, the last party I went to was New Year’s Eve 2014. It was at my new neighbour’s house. Her ex-husband was there and between them they had cooked, or maybe bought (difficult to tell once out of the cardboard box and displayed on a reindeer plate left over from Christmas) a mountain of vol-au-vents, little quichey things, sausages on sticks and whatever. She said come over at nine. That seemed quite a late start but at least it cut down the amount of hours I could possibly be expected to be there. As I stepped over the wonky little brick wall that divides her house from mine I rehearsed my escape story. My sister had mentioned phoning from Canada at midnight our time. I just had to be next to the phone in case she did. So difficult to get a line from places like Canada and the States on a public holiday. All the ex-pats calling home at once. Etc.

I left it till ten past nine. That’s what you’re supposed to do, isn’t it? And I figured it would be packed in there by that time and there would be less conspicuity involved. I tend to like to edge in sideways, find a seat and slither into it, and never leave that seat again unless forced to do so for a bathroom visit, throughout which I worry that ‘my’ seat won’t be there when I get back and I might have to stand.

So I knocked on the door and there was no one there, except neighbour and ex-husband in a rather startling red-walled living room; she had obviously been redecorating in the current local style – feature walls – visual indigestion. I loathe red. And there we sat. The ex-husband was conscientious about small talk. I did my best. None of us mentioned the fact that… well, that was the elephant in the room. All that food. No one to eat it. Then one other neighbour arrived with his girlfriend. He isn’t very keen on me, I think. He talked about long-distance lorry-driving a lot, and the correct way of loading a long-distance lorry, and the correct way of fastening a tarpaulin to a long-distance lorry. And eventually I remembered my sister’s imminent call, collected my coat from the knob on the end of the bannister, and went home. I felt this would be exactly the night for drinking half, if not three quarters of a bottle of Blue Nun all alone whilst watching TV till 2 in the morning and falling asleep on the sofa, but of course I had no Blue Nun so I microwaved myself some milk and put a teaspoon of honey in it.

The one before that was the Christmas before the Christmas before that. That was a lively one. Oh yes. I didn’t escape from that till one a.m. It was at another neighbour’s – the one down the end next the giant field that they seem to plough all year round, even in the middle of the night with floodlights on the tractor, when not spraying it with dung or pesticide.

The house is eccentric, being full of every sort of light imaginable. Everything lights up and moves all at once – pictures (waterfalls, etc) , fairy lights, a multitude of lava-lamps, the blue winking Christmas tree in the window, put there specially to annoy the neighbours over the road (‘Her and her Illegal Scotsman’) who were loathed and never invited; an enormous flat-screen TV with the volume up to 92 or thereabouts, which somebody kept flicking at with the remote control. I never knew a television could have so many channels and so many menus to find those channels on, or that you could watch five or six channels at once, whilst smoking packet after packet of cigarettes, dancing with children, drinking, telling jokes, and experimenting with a home karaoke kit. Forgive me, Delilah, I just couldn’t take any moooooore…

Once again, I found my chair – or rather half a small sofa – and stuck to it. The springs were wrecked and I suspected my bottom might actually be on the floor. It felt like it. People kept coming and sitting next to me, which was nice, if stressful. I wasn’t sure what they were talking about as I’m slightly deaf. Normally I don’t notice it but in any loud environment all I can hear is multi-directional loudness. I am reduced to lip-reading. Although I have become quite good at this over the years, it’s difficult when people are talking about tragic events that happened in the neighbourhood long before you arrived. At twelve-fifty a.m. mine host started to tell me for the second time that evening the tale of the old lady who had once lived next to the Illegal Scotsman.

Old lady, she was, and we didn’t realise she had died. It was them little dogs, you see. When her son found her a week later she was scratched to ribbons – scratched to ribbons, she was. It were them little dogs. He thought she’d been murdered.

Just what you want to hear when you have a vivid imagination and live alone with a multitude of cats. And for the second time in one evening. I couldn’t bear it. My head was spinning, my eyes were watering with all the smoke and I was full of chocolate mini-rolls and mince-pies. I made my polite excuses. No one else was leaving. It all went a bit silent. But we’re only just getting going…

At one o’clock in the morning! Had I been expected to stay the night?

And then there were all those other parties, stretching back into my depressing, lonely past like the white plastic poppers of a necklace I had as a child. I wore it to the Methodist Sunday School party, which was in fact not too bad. The poppers got pulled apart and scattered all over the floor by some idiot boy when we were playing spin-the-collection-plate (oh yes, we Methodists knew how to party) but there were sandwiches, and jelly with dobs of ersatz cream; there were balloons, and crackers with mottoes in them and adult-sized purple paper hats that ended up resting on our shoulders, and little dangly ‘skellingtons’. And best of all we didn’t have to wash up. The grown-ups crammed themselves into the kitchen – a corrugated iron shed attached to the Sunday School room – to do that.

And then there was the one when we were supposed to go in fancy dress. That was soon after I got married. We made our own costumes, thinking that was what you did. I went as a tree because I happened to have some brown cloth and some green cloth. I think I had an apple or two attached. I can’t remember what my husband went as. Everyone else had hired proper costumes and stared at us. It was in an expensive cottage, half way down a steep hill. The sort where everything gleams.

And there were the ones where we suddenly realised dancing had changed since we were single, and that imperceptibly we had become a couple, and dull. And the earlier one where I met my husband – and I would only drink orange juice, which was rather acidic – and somebody was smoking pot, which worried me and I wondered if I ought to inform someone – and I was wearing this long flowery dress which somehow seemed now too long, and not thick enough. And my future husband (I already knew) danced, and that was both embarrassing and endearing because he looked like a scarecrow come to life, all angles and elbows and self-conscious jiggling about. And afterwards we had to stay the night, but there was only the living room so we spent the night together on folding camp beds of different heights, him with his long, long curly hair and his grey gypsy eyes and the trousers his mother had lengthened for him with strips of appalling curtain material, I in my long flowery dress which didn’t look right, securely tucked around my ankles. Horizontally but chastely we conversed – I from aloft and he from below – and played the same three Leonard Cohen singles over and over – and I supposed we must have slept because eventually light came streaming in through the kitchen window, and it was a new day.

IT’S OH SO QUIET, IT’S OH SO STILL

So I’ve woken up in the middle of the night again, probably because Old Rufus and Young Rufus are competing to see which can be the biggest nuisance. Young Rufus is winning, on the mega-purr front and in the violent-chin-butting contest. My mouth is full of that floaty fur you get when cats decide to demonstrate affection. After an abortive attempt to ignore all this and go back to sleep, I get up. It is four o’clock in the morning.

Sideways down the stairs, one step at a time, clinging to the rail. The right knee is playing up.

Vertical human equals food, and the Whiskas-lust is upon them. I’m not feeding you yet; you’ve got twelve half-bowls of Felix to be going on with. Anyway, most of you are too fat. I make a cup of coffee. While the kettle is boiling I play a quick game of football with George. The knee is still playing up but this is a tiny football, with a bell in the middle. George is much better at football than I. Sometimes I tell people he was called that after footballer George Best, but in fact he was named after several King Georges of England. The only King George I can usually remember is the mad one, with the purple wee. All the boys are named after Kings of one sort or another. I don’t switch on the living room light in case the neighbours might see I am about in the middle of the night and conclude that I am wandering in an elderly, Alzheimer’s kind of way, or just weird. Somehow their opinions, even their putative, probably non-existent opinions, constitute an invasion of my privacy. Flicking on the News Channel, I attempt to lift the mug around Arthur without it spilling. He sits on my knee, nose to nose, bolt upright. He is staring me out. Whiskas!

No Whiskas! No till six.

Whiskas!!

Same old, same old. City centre shootings, back-street stabbings and endless migrants; border after border closing in Europe, razor-wire being rolled out; crying children, babes in arms; exhausted adults swathed in blankets against the night rain, trapped between one barbed wire fence and another all day and all night; desperate faces. I could weep for the world.

For some reason this reminds me of that 1997 song by Cornershop, an East/West fusion band.

Brimful of Asha on the forty-five…

The song was catchy and also included the excellent line Everybody needs a bosom for a pillow, everybody needs a bosom… It is a song with many layers of meaning. Asha means Hope, and Indian films are all about hope, relentless and sometimes rather syrupy. Asha was also the name of a one of the popular singing sisters Asha Bhonsle and Lata Mangeshkar, who recorded background tracks for Bollywood films. Cornershop’s lead singer is of Punjabi heritage, yet he sings Asher. In the Punjab Asha would have been pronounced Aaasha, so he is indicating that he grew up in a different culture speaking English. The forty-five was a forty-five rpm record player… the sort of thing parents still had, when their children were moving over to CD players.

The house adjoining mine is empty, oppressively so. I don’t notice it during the day but at night a chill, a kind of dankness seems to come through the walls. Apparently they are in the South of France for several months, engaged in a Grand Design project, their dream villa; or staying in the caravan of a friend of a friend, it depends which neighbour you talk to. Presumably doggy is with them. The labradoodle. I wonder what the French would call a labradoodle. Le doodle probably, since they have a tendency to leave out bits of the words and phrases they borrow from us. Le scotch for Scotch tape but Le Scotch for the whisky. Le parking for the car-park. Le living for living-room. Le brushing for blow-drying. Interestingly, le fashion-victim is a compliment rather than an insult if you are called it by a Frenchman.

Things keep reminding me of things at this time of the night – sorry, morning. There was this play. They were all in a cottage, having a dinner party. It all seemed quite normal to start with and then someone peered out of the window – never a wise thing to do in a TV play – and there was nothing there. Nothing at all. Blackness. It was as if they were flying through space, trapped together for all eternity in this one cottage, in this dreadful dinner party, with this same little group of dreadful people. The play must have thoroughly creeped me out since I am now recalling it thirty years later. I keep thinking Rocket Cottage but no, that was the name of an album by Steeleye Span. It had a rocket on the front.

So what is keeping me awake? Many things.

Mum, deep in dementia yet refusing all help. My sister emailed me yesterday: ‘I think of Mum all the time, even in the middle of the night.’ Do we just have to wait for disaster to happen? Is there no safety net – no contingency plan in a situation like this? Surely we can’t be the only ones in this situation?

And catalogues, of course. Catalogue-delivering and income supplementation strategies generally eat into my precious time – time reserved for blogging, reading and thinking. I can’t think. No time to. The house is filling up with shiny home-shopping catalogues in shiny plastic snap-bags. Drowning under the weight of them. Glug. Glug, glug… I find I have written strange notes to myself: Bag up cats – Deliver cats – Wipe and recycle cats. It’s a good thing the actual cats can’t read.

There’s a pebble-man propped up against the poetry in my bookcase. My sister made him for me and posted him from Canada. Pebbles glued on to white board, with additional art-work. I can’t help wondering how those pebbles felt, one minute nestling in brotherly companionship on some Canadian lake shore, say, the next glued to a board and painted round then whizzed into first one then another postal system and ending up for no obvious reason in an English bookcase. Are they homesick?

My neighbour arrives in from his night shift, killing the headlights early so as not to wake the neighbours – those that are not already awake. I hear him attempting to drive quietly on our unmade road, but the potholes, gravel and broken lumps of concrete of which it is composed announced his arrival from the minute he turned into the road. If the Council were to adopt the road it would be surfaced, smooth and luxurious, but our Council Tax would shoot up so we don’t make too much of a fuss.

I lift the corner of the curtain to see if there are any other lighted living-room windows, indicating that other people are about. There are one or two, up the hill and down, but you can never be sure there are actually people in those rooms. They could just have left the lights on to discourage burglars. At one time I worked an evening shift and came in at ten. Sometimes our one and only streetlight was out when I got home and it was a case of groping round the side of the house and through the night garden, trying to find the keyhole with a tiny torch, the key unwilling to fit because I was rushing to get indoors. I was imagining escaped prisoners lying in wait just beyond the bird-feeders, or lurking in the lavender.

And suddenly it is 6.30. Time to feed the cats.

Tout Passe, Tout Casse, Tout Lasse

Throughout our lives there will be moments when things are taking place for the last time, and if we recognise a ‘last time’ for what it is the pain can be excruciating. Someone going to see a sick relative in hospital may know they are going to say goodbye. A woman, suitcases in the hall, taxi outside the door, knows these are her last few minutes of being a wife in anything but name. But mostly it doesn’t happen that way, and that’s a mercy. Most of the time we manage not to see: we either screen out the knowledge by focussing on irrelevances, or manage to introduce an element of doubt. A miracle might happen. She might pull through. Maybe we’ll get together again, when we’re old and grey.

Everything passes, everything breaks, everything wearies.

Which sounds better in the French: tout passe, tout casse, tout lasse.

More convenient still, from the pain and anguish point of view, we don’t realise most last things were last things until long, long afterwards. It’s a bit like the menopause. One day it dawns on you that it must have happened, at some point. And hooray, no more flushes (British) flashes (American) or Personal Summers (Canadian). I do love Canadians; they’ve got a kindly version of everything. What a joy to discover that if in an equable, Canadian frame of mind one might substitute hasn’t got all his paddles in the water for the overused three bricks short of a load or the light’s on but no one’s at home.

Time passes, and little by little everything that we have spoken in falsehood becomes true. Marcel Proust (1871 – 1922)

But I digress. So, sad last things – slightly frivolous, less sad or neutral last things – last things to do with dementia and ageing – happy last things. (You can tell I made a sort of plan, for once. Have since diverted from it in several directions.)

Sad last things: the last time you see your homeland; the last time you kiss the love of your life; the last time you sleep with him/her; the last time you see your father or mother.

Slightly frivolous, less sad, or neutral last things: the last time you look down at the scales and read your ideal weight; the last time you believe in Father Christmas; the last time the tooth-fairy leaves a sixpence under your pillow (what is it with tooth-fairies – so fickle!); the last time you tell your troubles to your teddy bear and he makes you feel better.

Last dementia/ageing things: the last time you get into a car and drive somewhere without being scared witless; the last time you have a normal conversation with somebody, as opposed to believing you are having a normal conversation; the last time you read a book or watch a TV programme without falling asleep five minutes into it.

Happy last things: the last time you walk out the door of a job you hated; the last minute of a headache, when it finally starts to fade; the last time somebody will ever turn the television off or switch channels in the middle of a programme you were engrossed in; the last childbirth (remind me to tell you my sister’s story about the maternity ward and Spotted Dick pudding – though I suspect I already did that, somewhere).

Everything passes. Nobody gets anything for keeps. And that’s how we’ve got to live. Appreciate the moment, every loved one, here and now. Haruki Murakami, contemporary Japanese writer (b: 1949)

Everyone will have his or her own list of last times. But remember there are first times too, and that without the last times the first times would have no meaning.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9jmusgMgro

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face: Roberta Flack

I’m just sitting watching flowers in the rain

So we found ourselves in Sheerness in September, in the rain. This always happens at some point when my Canadian sister is staying. I suppose it’s sort of quaint, or at any rate quite unlike Edmonton, and that’s why she likes it. And seeing it’s raining cats and dogs, might as well go as not. So we go, and almost immediately split up because we are both ‘lone shoppers’ by nature. S heads for her favourite clothes shop; I squelch off on a quest for a post box and a bookshop.

I find a post box, eventually, outside the main post office; there don’t seem to be any others. Of course it’s difficult to see when the rain is running down your glasses. I may have missed the other one. It is at this point that I discover the toggle on my rain-jacket hood has somehow, internally, got knotted. I can raise the hood but there is nothing I can do to keep it on my head. And foolishly I have worn a knee-length dress-tunic thing over leggings. Cheap, comfy and accommodating to any figure, leggings go with almost anything. They are  de rigeur in Sheerness and I felt in need of camouflage. Now, in the wind and the wet, the dress starts creeping up towards the hem of my jacket and I keep having to stop in shop doorways to retrieve it, without appearing to be retrieving it. Also the knees of my leggings are getting soggy. At some point I give up the search for a bookshop and instead buy a copy of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter for £1 in a charity shop, duck into a café and order a cup of tea.

The café is full of gently-steaming old people, which is how they probably see me – oh, just another steamy old baggage. I don’t feel I can, as a single tea-drinker, commandeer a whole wobbly silver table and four chairs so I head for the wobbly silver stools looking out over the High Street. They are very high, for a steamy old person, but I manage to mount one in stages, and without embarrassment. The High Street is one car wide, and cars creep along between the scurryers, moochers and shoppers on either pavement, spraying them with water. Nobody seems to notice. So many people in track-suit bottoms with walking boots and inadequate tee shirts. So many push-chairs. So many walking appliances – zimmers, crutches, walkers – more wobbly silver stuff. So many ladies in those plastic concertina rain bonnets. My Mum used to have those for coming out the hairdressers after a perm. I gather a perm will go frizzy if the rain gets to it. Hers used to have polka dots: these don’t even have dots.

Waiting for my tea, still, I read the notes on the back cover of The Scarlet Letter and put it to one side – face down so as not to attract attention – and make a few notes for my next post. I am next to the door and every time someone opens it there is a draught, which reminds me that the knees of my leggings are wet. My hair is dripping down my neck. Opposite there is a florist’s shop. The sign in the window says Weddings & Funerals. The ampersand seems to be of some importance. Bunches of tall flowers stand in tall plastic pots on the pavement, and the rain rains relentlessly on.

My tea arrives. I like it in this café in spite of the awfulness of the tea. Or perhaps because. I am always happiest in places where nothing at all can be expected of me, other than ordering, sitting for a while, paying up and leaving. The mug is too small – cream with raised dots around the rim, and it has a saucer. The saucer is so that when you rescue your tea-bag from the mahogany liquid in which it swims you have somewhere to put it.

I make more notes, watched by a little girl who is leaning on one elbow. I pretend not to have seen her. My ‘note-taking’ writing, like the notebook that lives in my handbag, is tiny. Writing in word-and-shorthand (Word & Shorthand?) salad, I continue not to look at the child, who is perched on another of these wobbly silver stools. Her young mother stands facing the other way, talking into her mobile phone. How did J K Rowling ever manage to find herself on a train, with the idea for Harry Potter in her head and no pencil and paper? How could she ever have broken that cardinal rule of writing? But then, she wrote Harry Potter and made millions. And I didn’t, for all my notebooks.

A woman walks past, her face raw and tense against the rain. For a moment I think it is me, but no it isn’t. She is younger than me. I keep forgetting. It’s that doppelganger again.