Not Exactly Rubik’s Cube

For some reason today I resolved to make the perfect Dutchman’s Puzzle block.  Well, it is now 20 to 7 in the evening and I seem to have been making – and unmaking – versions of the Dutchman’s Puzzle all day. My sewing room (ie spare bedroom) floor is littered with discarded snippets, wispy ends of cotton and, somewhere or other – the back off one of my stud earrings. No doubt that has gone the way of all stud earring backs and now resides in one of the gaps between alternate universes.

It was meant to be a 12″ block but for some mathematical reason I cannot fathom has turned out to be 11″. So it won’t fit in with any other blocks and is an orphan, i.e. completely useless unless I decide to make another million of them just the same, and there’s a truly daunting prospect.

Nobody ever seems to show any curiosity as to why traditional blocks are called what they are. What, for instance, was the inspiration for Old Tippercanoe? Possibly someone in the Wild West had an ancient canoe that kept tipping them out, but for all that they were rather fond of it?

Dutchman’s Puzzle is an old block, dating back to around 1800, but why exactly was the Dutchman puzzled, or what is the puzzle the block contains? According to Ruby McKim who wrote One Hundred And One Patchwork Patterns somewhere around 1931, ‘The darker always points into the lighter and thus the Puzzle is solved into a 12-inch block’. Or in my case, 11-inch. But is that it? I mean, is that all there is to it? It’s like listening to someone tell a shaggy dog story and at the end having no idea what was meant to be funny.

Maybe he’s puzzled because something’s gone wrong with his sails (especially since I sewed them).

It didn’t turn out to be the perfect block. Apart from being an inch too small all round, even though I (thought I) did all the calculations, and the edges wafty and bedraggled-looking, the middles don’t match up

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and I accidentally included some of the holes from the selvedge. And now I wonder why exactly I spent all day – apart from mowing two lawns, cutting back the brambles, washing up several times, feeding the N-n-n-n-nineteen twice, taking delivery of a stack of slippery-shiny magazines which I’ve got to force through a minimum 188 eccentric letterboxes tomorrow, and driving over to the vets for three tins of disgusting-smelling invalid cat food for my invalid cat who, of course, flatly refuses to go anywhere near it –  in rapt concentration teaching myself to do something so utterly pointless.

I think it must be the dream. It’s a form of escape. So, as I cut and snip, and sew and unpick, arrange and rearrange, I am living another life. I am some lady in cotton bonnet in a log cabin in the middle of winter, and I am making the most of the daylight of some short winter day, thriftily using up scraps too small for anything else. And no doubt I have a husband who looks like that Grizzly Adams or that rather personable chap from Little House On The Prarie, who will shortly be returning home from a long day chopping firewood or what ever Grizzly Adamses do, and will greatly appreciate my homely cooking, my frugal patchwork and all my other other wifely attributes…

(Sigh!)

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PS: Invalid Mog has suddenly eaten whole tin of the disgusting invalid catfood, plus antibiotic tablet hastily thrown in, and drunk a whole bowlful of water, so maybe some sort of corner has been turned.

 

A Plague By Any Other Name

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Words That Stung”

Yes, it’s come to this: in desperation I have printed off a list of Interesting Personal Essay Ideas. Sigh! And this was on there – the title, not the wasp, or wapsie as Canadian sister used to say when little, several millennia ago. I know why the current lack of inspiration: things have been happening in my life as usual, but for various reasons nothing I can actually write about here. This always stymies me, since my usual method is simply to ask myself What am I obsessing about/ ruminating over/ pondering/ remembering right this minute? And however unlikely the subject is, I sit down and ‘splurge’ about that.

I usually avoid internet lists of essay titles. They mostly seem to be aimed at schoolchildren and involve school, teenage crushes, dreams and plans for the future, lurve or parents – none of which I have, in any useful sense. Note of gloom creeping in here – buck up, do, you old misery!

Words That Stung – hmmm, we all have some of those, don’t we? And how not to turn a feeble attempt at an entertaining Monday Morning Post into All The Nasty Things People Have Ever Said To Me. Let’s just select a few, then over to you for your examples.

There was the time my mother told me I had to keep my face still when we were out shopping, because some lady had said What a pity your little girl has St Vitus Dance, or words to that effect. My mother explained that St Vitus’ Dance was when your face kept twitching, kind of grotesquely. I wonder who St Vitus was? Somebody who danced, obviously. Will have to look him up.

There was the time Canadian Sister and I entered a children’s writing competition in the local newspaper (Uncle Mac’s Corner). The title was something like Why My Mummy Is The Best In The World. I wrote it really, but sister provided some enthusiastic input. She was probably too young to write at that stage. I was so proud when it appeared in Uncle Mac’s Corner the next day, and expected Mummy to be pleased (chocolate cup cakes for a week, I imagined) but she wasn’t.

Instead she launched into a – to me, at seven or so – inexplicable and hysterical rant, to the effect that I sent that to the newspaper, secretly, for all to see and laugh at, and I could write all that but I could never tell her to her face. It was true that I had never told her to her face. It had never occurred to me because what kid goes up to their Mum and says all that sugary, embarrassing stuff? And anyway writing was my telling, my speaking, my confiding – was then and has remained so.

And then I had to walk to school, with my face all red and puffy, hiccupping, and get teased and stared at all day for the mess I was in. I maybe understood a bit better when I got older, but I never forgave her.

There was the time – no, I can’t tell you that one. Or…that one, either.

And then there was the time a supervisor told me the ‘bosses’ regarded me as some kind of slightly addled old hippy – nice, but vague – or words to that effect. I wasn’t actually nice, and I wasn’t actually vague, and if only I had been a hippy.

There was the time a visiting financial advisor remarked that of course the root of all my problems was a) insufficient income and b) all those cats. The sensible thing, he said, will be to dispose of all, or most of, these stray cats. I wondered whether he had children, and how many of them he would dispose of in times of financial stress, and which of them he would choose.

There was the time the doctor told me my bad back would get better if I lost some of the excess weight when actually I was just bundled up in an old winter raincoat with the belt bunched up funny round the waist (à la little Meghan’s posh white coat in her official engagement photo, but nobody said she could do with shedding a few pounds because it happened to be a chilly day and her belt was tied sort of funny!)

On similar lines, and talking of fat, these Stinging Words are not mine, but were related to me by a colleague. She said she had gone to the doctor one Winter’s day wearing a puffy anorak with her woolly gloves poked into the pocket, and he had asked her how far along her pregnancy was – when she wasn’t. Mind you, she was a bit chunky.

And one from my sister, when she and her husband were trying unsuccessfully for a baby, who kept receiving pamphlets in Air Mail letters from her mother-in-law, about female infertility. Her husband had been trying to intercept the post on his way out to work, to fish out any pamphlets before my sister saw them. But that’s not so much a Stinging Word as a Stinging Action or a Stinging Assumption.

Have any Stinging Words (not too painful to share at this distance in time) remained indelibly seared into your memory over the years?

More Siesta Than Fiesta

I’ve often gazed aghast at Tracey Emin’s conceptual artwork (I believe that’s what it’s called) Unmade Bed. I gather it is a recreation of her actual bed, that she actually slept in. How could anyone? I mean how could anyone …? And if she did, how could she actually admit to people that she actually spent her nights, and possibly her days, in such appalling squalor? But I suppose that’s the point. She’s saying that most people live squalid little lives and put on a face, most of the time, try to convince other people that they’ve got it all together, that they know what they’re doing. When they haven’t. And they don’t.

Do you think? I mean, if that was her aim, she succeeded, didn’t she? I would never have had the courage to admit to those care-home furry slippers let alone some of the other disgusting objects. But then I don’t live like that – yet – though tending in that direction, sadly.

What made me think of this was moving mattresses around today. I must admit, the older and wearier I get, and the more cats decide to share their little lives with me, the harder it seems to keep up with the housework. All winter the cats have been increasing but the hoovering… hasn’t. And it’s got disorganised. It does that at intervals. Usually I move house – that sorts it out. Throw all sorts of stuff away, pack the rest in boxes. Start again somewhere else. But now I don’t have that option. I’m fixed.

I’ve been trying to clear some space in the spare room, for sewing things in the hope of selling the things I sewed… somewhere or other. Etsy, or jumble sales or something. You can tell I don’t exactly have a business brain. There just wasn’t enough room for cutting out patterns and storing stuff and all the other things you have to do, to be efficient.

So, I decided to move the two single mattresses out of the spare room, where they had been propped up against the wall – until one of them toppled over and landed squarely on a row of cat dirt-boxes in the middle of the night. I decided I didn’t have the energy to manhandle two mattresses along the landing, round a corner, down the stairs, round another corner, through the kitchen and out to the garage. Also, it was raining, and they would get wet. Not that it would have mattered very much, having landed in the dirt boxes.

So I made a cunning plan. I would spend a morning removing all the stuff from my bedroom, hoovering it (first find the hoover), spraying all round the edges with an expensive substance called Indorex, which is meant to kill fleas, then piling up in some or other fashion two single mattresses and two double mattresses.

I did actually experiment with the piling up last night. I tried it with the two double mattresses (what remains of the double bed is in the garage – don’t ask) on the bottom and the two single mattresses one on top of the other on top of that. Ideal, I thought. Save all that hauling myself up first thing in the morning, and it will be interesting to sleep so much closer to the ceiling. Change of perspective.

Unfortunately it was also quite dangerous. Unused to a single bed, I several times awoke teetering perilously near one edge or the other. Visions of tumbling, humpty-dumpty-like, onto the floor beneath and shattering some part of myself then kept me awake. I was afraid to sleep.

Also, the cats, used to a whole double bed and a somnolent human to potter about on all night, were confused. And annoyed. Four at a time, they attempted to balance on top of me, on top of the four teetering mattresses, which had now taken on a kind of jelly-like motion. This must be what a water bed feels like, I mused. Water beds were quite popular at some time in my past. Maybe the seventies. Or the eighties. Can anyone remember?

Anyway, that didn’t really work. I awoke irritable and sneezing and all the cats fell off. So this morning I set to again, with the rolled-up sleeves and the open window and the Indorex spray. You are really supposed to clear the whole house and all livestock before spraying Indorex, I think. No chance that was ever going to happen. Opened the window.

The result is weird, inelegant, but safe, and now I have room to breathe in my new ‘workroom’. I even have a whole wallpaper table for cutting patterns on. Have had to prop it up underneath the hinged bit in the middle as the three-legged one keeps landing, heavily on it, and all the force goes down through that one front leg. He is very painful, when he lands on you. A few more of those landings and my precious, but flimsy table would start sagging.

And I now have a half-empty, flea-free bedroom. Only another four rooms to go. I’m tackling them one a day. Apart from the days when I’m doing something else and can’t. Like tomorrow.

In the Belly of the Beast

Suddenly a dramatic-sounding title for a post pops into your head but you have no idea where it popped from.

Apparently it was a book written by American prisoner John Henry Abbot about the awfulness of the prison system. Published in 1981 it was a great success and he got parole. But almost immediately he killed a waiter in a restaurant row and was re-arrested. Committed suicide in 2002. Why are we all so bent on destroying ourselves and everything around us, I wonder?

Well the Beast in this context is a Siberian storm dubbed by weathermen (and ladies) The Beast From The East. Normally our UK weather comes from the west and is wet. We get all America’s half-spent hurricanes but, despite our romantic belief in the many White Christmases of yore, being able to skate on the frozen River Thames etc., rarely snow. And it’s March, the first day of meteorological spring!

So I am stuck at home with a bad back and nineteen cats as the snow whirls and swirls around. The back step is thick with ice but I can’t get to the garage to get the shovel to clear it because the back step is thick with ice…

Cat food tins are stacked against the living room wall. I ordered extra for them but forgot about me so am snacking on weird combinations of salted peanuts and porridge, and toasting that stale bread. There is that tin of Complan…

I have given up putting food out for Mystery Dog and the assorted stray cats, since three mornings running it’s been untouched, frozen solid in the bowls. No sign of furry footprints. I wonder where, and how, they all are and how many will come back to me after the snow melts.

Luckily still have electricity. Unluckily that leprechaun in the form of a massive, undeliverable Windows update has finally succeeded in killing my desktop computer. Had been fending it off for a year but it snuck itself in in the background regardless and is now cycling endlessly: restoring your old version of Windows SQEAK oops not restoring SQEAK oops…

The ruinously expensive computer chap has had to be rescheduled for Monday, fingers crossed. He can’t get here. No buses. Our railway station was of course one of the unimportant few selected for closure. Our roads are thick with rutted snow. Dustmen didn’t arrive yesterday so the snow is littered with overflowing green bins. No sign of the postlady for days. Valiant Amazon driver did get through on Monday night (poss he would have been court martialled or something if he hadn’t) but now I noticed they are scheduling even Prime deliveries for next week sometime. Will have to ration the cat biscuits.

So, at the moment I am/we are An Island Intire Of Ourselves, and I am typing this with one fat finger on a mobile phone.

Altogether Beastly, but no doubt we will survive!

Photo: Three-Legged Cat (aka Nicholas aka Hoppity) plus unidentifiable sleeping black cat.

The Sewing Machine Mouse

Now, machines are notoriously grumpy. This is why the refrigerator elects to break down just before somebody’s birthday party. This is why the washing machine floods the kitchen floor on the very day you return from your holidays bearing suitcase after suitcase of unwashed smalls and sandy bathing costumes. Machines lead a boring life, on the whole, and they blame humans for this.

And this is why household appliances do not tell us that they can grant wishes. At least, selected wishes. An electric oven, for example, has the power to make it a nice sunny day for a picnic. If it chooses. It can cause a woolly blanket to wrap itself around the shoulders of an old lady who has fallen asleep on the sofa in Midwinter. If it chooses. But it will not choose very often.

A television can, if it chooses, happen to be showing your favourite soppy romantic film of all time when you are feeling particularly down and your boyfriend has just left you for some blonde floosie he happened to bump into in a supermarket car park, just by accident.

Except of course that it might not have been an accident. Cars can grant wishes, if they choose. Why, even supermarket trolleys have been known to grant wishes to passing strangers – if they happen to have woken up feeling full of beans that day. So your faithless boyfriend may just have happened to wish for a blonde floosie of some sort as he locked his Ford Fiesta with that funny little key thing that hardly ever works, or as he passed a trolley bay…

A fridge – ah, a refrigerator can only really do things to do with cold, or at any rate cooler. In a heatwave, say, it might cause a cool breeze to flutter across the heated brow of the plumber, quietly cursing under your sink to fix that awkward bit of piping. It might send a cold shiver up your spine to remind you that you have forgotten Auntie Gertie’s birthday yet again, and better get a card in the post right now.

And what can a sewing machine do? Well, sewing machines are a bit different. They do indeed grant wishes, but only to animals. Sewing machines prefer animals to human beings, you see, and I can’t say I blame them.

So when a funny little cloth mouse appeared on my sewing machine this afternoon, all crooked button eyes and wiggly stitching, with a piece of cord for a tail and ears that looked as if they might have been sewn on backwards, I knew… George, innocently asleep now in a basket of paper patterns for, of all things, aprons… George had just been dreaming of a mouse of his very own.

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