For all the tea in China

Two halves of the same cat

Every autumn I start putting out food for the strays again. I always tell myself I won’t, because strays means bonding and bonding means coming indoors and coming indoors means staying for ever and a day. I remind myself that I cannot save every single stray cat in all the world. Nevertheless, that seems to be what I am programmed to do. I have no other purpose.

The first dishes usually go to waste, but on the second day of the putting out of the food, strays appear; sometimes one, occasionally four but most often two of them. And so it is this year. At first I thought there was only one, since all I could see of it was a large, black furry bottom poking out of the dog/cat kennel whilst the head inside busily slurped. But no, it’s two – I heard yowling round the side and caught them nose to nose, whisker to whisker, an all black one and a mostly black one with white bits on her face. A boy and a girl, I think, possibly brother and sister. They will have to organise themselves not to turn up at exactly the same time.

The lawn fails to get the message

The lawn mowing duo turned up on time today, weather-beaten and muscular in their matching green tee-shirts. I haven’t yet decided whether they are married or siblings. Heavy morning rain had ceased only seconds before. They must have a line to whoever or whatever turns the rain on and off. (The cats think this is me.)

The industrial, gas-powered machines were unloaded from the truck, one large green person took the front and one the back and it was done in a tenth of the time it would have taken me. I could just about still do it, but have reached the stage of breathlessness/ agonising boredom where I just don’t want to do it. A monthly visit from The Green People is my only luxury.

They will not be back now till March, when the grass officially starts growing again. The grass has now, since it is November, officially stopped growing. Unfortunately nobody has told the grass. After the Green People left last month it was so made up, so overjoyed to have been mown by professionals, that it put on a spurt of growth. I have a feeling another spurt will follow their November visit. So under a carpet of snow, that bright green grass will be growing and growing…

But then, I’m not the one who will be doing the first cut next spring. Yay!

I have decided I don’t like my lady vet

I used to like the vet, when he was an eastern European chap with an accent you could cut with a knife. I don’t think he was Russian – because would Russian vets be allowed to come over here? – just sounded for all the world like one of those meercats in the TV ads. But he has gone. I went in one day to discover he had gone, for good, to France. He has taken all his cats, and his dogs, so he can’t be coming back. Indeed, why would you come back, here? I wouldn’t come back here if I had a chance to go somewhere else: no, not for all the tea in China.

But the lady we have instead – well, she is a lady, for a start. And she’s not him. She has an accent but not the same accent. She’s large, she has a tattoo and a brusque manner and I can’t bring myself to trust her. She talks to me like some generic, probably senile, Old Person, some tiresome Member of the Public; whereas he – I felt, anyway – actually seemed to be talking to me. I got the feeling he saw me as unpredictable and scarily odd: everybody seems to react to me like that – so be grateful that I am blogging rather than turning up on your street corner or lurking by the swings in the park. But occasionally amusing. And he didn’t make the mistake of thinking I was daft.

Really, it must be genetic. Why is it still easier to trust a man even though, throughout my life at any rate, the men I have known (in any detail) have proven themselves crueller, more devious, more judgmental and less supportive than women? No wonder we remain unemancipated.

But still, I think I’ll bite the bullet and try out (gasp!) another surgery altogether.

I think bread may be causing my IBS

I ate an experimental sandwich at lunch time and yes, the agony has returned. I am writing to distract myself from it. Think I will go and make myself a hot water bottle and distract myself still further by watching a really dreadful Christmas movie and knitting yet another dishcloth.

Slow, Slow (Slow-Slow-Slow)

When I gave up my TV set, angry at the BBC for refusing to fund free licences for the over 75s from next year, I expected to be watching less TV. In fact, no TV. That was before I discovered Amazon Prime.

Now, I have been paying for Amazon Prime for years without understanding exactly what it was. It used to be just getting your parcels the next day, then the price went up – considerably. I was never entirely clear why this should be and several times cancelled my Amazon Prime subscription, only to go slinking back to it as soon as my parcels started taking ages to arrive.

Only recently did I realise that all this time I could have been listening to music and watching movies free, gratis and for nothing. You do have to have the patience hunt for the good free stuff, though. A lot of the free stuff is bad – films so execrably bad you wonder how on earth they got the funding to make them; films with plot holes, logic holes, unsuitable-looking actors and actors who obviously aren’t actors at all but people netted at random from the local pub or garage forecourt.

I watched – forced myself to watch – recently a Christmas Movie so indescribably awful… Well, suffice it to say that the young heroine spent the whole movie strutting about the snow-clad Rocky Mountains (or similar – it’s a bit vague where they are) in a mini-skirt, surrounded by fake snow. The strutting about and the deafening clatter of her monstrous high heels continued throughout the movie. Everyone else was wearing either suits or Christmas jumpers.

At one point there was an inexplicable Soup Kitchen. It just sort of materialised, so that they could cook their Christmas Buns in it when the plumbing failed in their – Christmas Bakery Thingy. And the men in suits – well, the suits were all identical, all a size or two too small – and the men inside them all had lantern jaws and shoulders like Popeye, post spinach. Presumably the local gym had supplied the men, and a cheap-ish men’s outfitters had hired the suits out in bulk.

However, it’s worth the effort of wading through the turkeys to get to the good stuff. Last night I watched a film called He Won’t Get Far On Foot about an alcoholic, wheelchair-bound cartoonist. It was somewhat “gritty” and sad, but also funny. Joachim Phoenix. Heard of him but never seen him before.

And before that a French film: The House By the Sea. There’s something about French films, so very cool and triste and sophisticated. Everybody smoking more than is good for them, and occasionally committing suicide. Plenty of expressive shrugs.

There’s Mr Robot, of course. My absolute favourite and still going on. Every Monday a new episode appears, like magic, on my tablet. The only trouble is it’s so very noir it’s difficult to see what’s going on – I mean, the lighting is clever, and super-creepy, and the hero, Eliot, wears a black hoodie… They do all tend to mumble, which makes them ultra authentic and cool, but mumbling in an urban American accent can be a problem if you’re not American or urban – or cool, or young. Then I discovered subtitles. Yes, you can turn them on and off at will and they stand out so well against the pitch-blackness of all those sinister rooms.

And now, from the same director (Sam Esmail) there is Homecoming with Julia Roberts. Better lit but just as creepy. I don’t normally like Julia Roberts. She strikes me as one of that small bunch of actors who have a personal charisma so great that they will always be watchable, but at the same time are always playing themselves. Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, John Wayne… always themselves. Ultra-strong signal, narrow bandwidth. However, she is good in this. She’s excellent at suffering, I think. Silent suffering.

And I think I have finally discovered a phenomenon known as Slow TV. It’s not exactly a new thing – does anyone remember The Potter’s Wheel intermission? And the (very) lengthy shot of a photograph of a little girl with chalks, at a blackboard? The present-day version is a kind of televised vlog produced by an exhausted, unshaven chap of a certain age who buys a narrow boat and sails it around the waterways of England.

He seems to be on his own and filming everything with a mobile phone, although he is quite good at propping it up and leaving it at an angle so that you can see him tying the boat up prior to stopping for one of his many cups of tea. The first episode takes place almost entirely inside his camper van, where he sits, for days, surrounded by all his worldly goods, waiting for his purchase of his narrow boat to go through. It rains on the windscreen. He wonders if he is doing the right thing. He eats pork pies and pizzas discovered in village petrol stations. He drinks tea. Always that same mug.

And after that it is sailing – up one canal, down another, through a very long tunnel, then through an even longer tunnel. Tunnels are scary. You never know when you are going to meet another narrowboat coming the other way. But the England he passes through, at four miles per hour, is very green, very lush, very damp, very quiet and apparently completely devoid of people. Just – wonderful!

In Parentheses

So, this year I promised myself at least a kind of Christmas. For the last however-many years (could it really be twenty-four?) I have spent some (admittedly as little as possible) of every Christmas Day with Mum. This was not because she particularly wanted me to (I suspect she would have been happier pottering about in the garden or going for that interminably long and always the same walk around her home town).

She seemed to have selected this walk for its lack of any refreshing scenic qualities (for the roar of traffic; the tang of exhaust fumes; the graffiti and aroma of dustbins in housing estate short-cuts that only she could have discovered; the rattle of trains passing under a bridge; the recreation ground that seems to have shrunk to half the size since I played in it; the ugly little grocer’s shop she would never enter, preferring a weekly trip to Tesco – equally ugly but further away and close to a Cypriot café that sold really bad coffee and scrambled egg that looked and tasted like yellow rubber – and the public conveniences).

And as for me, I would rather (would always rather) have been at home with the cats. However, I visited her on Christmas Day out of guilt, out of duty (out of loneliness), because being divorced I was free to (and because no one else would). In earlier years she would cook (something like a) Christmas Dinner. The portions were small (unlike me, she was never very hungry) but tasty. She was a good, nursery cook.

It was at least something to have a cooked meal together instead of Ryvitas (the standard absolutely tasteless variety rather than the slightly more edible ones with the sesame seeds) and low-fat yoghurt or, in later years, nothing at all (she had forgotten about lunch). We ate it in silence balancing cold plastic trays on our knees and gazing out over the garden. In earlier years it was a lovely garden. Later it got kind of overgrown.

It always seemed to be cool and raining on those Christmas Days with Mum. (You know, those days when the sky is kind of Zen – white and featureless, and the occasional black bird flies across it?) We couldn’t converse much except in mime and notes, and it’s not that easy to pass notes back and forth and balance a tray.

And yet in my childhood it seems to me it was snowing every Christmas – thick, crunchy snow, and deep. We would scrunch along the road together, Mum, Dad, my sisters and I, to have Christmas Dinner all together at Nan’s house and watch The Queen’s Speech (recorded sometime in August, probably) and the Top of the Pops Christmas Special (much to Grandad’s grumbling annoyance) and get choked by the aromatic smoke from Grandad’s pipe, and watch the fat old Labrador snoring fitfully in front of a real fire. (I miss Nan and Grandad; I miss Nan’s Christmas Dinners, which were excellent, perfect and absolutely huge.)

Depressed yet? (Keep reading.) This year Mum will be in hospital unless she gets mobile really quickly after her operation, in which case she will be back in the residential home, and either way not knowing or caring that it’s Yuletide. This year I have absolutely no reason to go anywhere on Christmas Day, and that is good on the whole because – you know – twelve cats draped on and around the sofa, purring; CD of folk carols to play whilst reading; entertaining rubbish on TV; cook myself some vegetarian something (out of practice, but not out of mind) – something involving new potatoes, perhaps, and Brussels-sprouts, and peas, and some sort of quiche, and gravy…maybe even a bottle of plonk or some cider.

Leading up to the Big Day, and now that I am no longer at work I have been treating myself to a Christmas Movie almost every afternoon. Sometimes there are even two, one after another. I don’t know why I like them. Comforting, I suppose. I like that they are nearly always set in America or Canada where everything is slightly different and more interesting and where there is real snow (Canada) or an incomprehensible combination of sunshine, fake snow and summer clothes (America). I love how New York has always has an opening shot of yellow taxis so you can tell at once which city you’re in, otherwise it would just be all skyscrapers. I love that every single movie contains some variation on every possible Christmas song so you can sing along and feel sentimental, and I love that they are all sure to contain some if not all of the following tropes:

  • Father Christmas
  • Mother Christmas
  • Elves, in one guise or another
  • Reindeer
  • A sleigh that crashes
  • A red-haired heroine with perfect, glisteningly white teeth
  • A whole lot of other perfect, glisteningly white teeth
  • Men, women, children and infants all wearing green, red or maroon plus a jolly scarf and cute woolly hats from Thanksgiving right through to Christmas Day
  • Romance, several unlikely misunderstandings then more romance
  • Mountains of presents around a mountainous tree
  • Home-made tree decorations that come out of a box in the garage that everyone has forgotten about
  • Christmas cookies – spiced, iced biscuits, sort of – and the heroine always knows how to cook the best ones the hero has ever eaten and at that moment he knows he’s going to marry her
  • A gorgeous but modest fireman, in a uniform
  • A little boy looking for a new father
  • A little girl looking for a new mother
  • A bitchy mother-in-law
  • An angel disguised as a plump old lady
  • Santa hats
  • Candy canes
  • A smart, brittle city sister and a homely, gingham and woolly-scarf wearing sister
  • A bunch of mistletoe that no one has noticed before
  • An unexpected baby
  • Someone losing their job but finding another
  • Someone realising the true meaning of life is family, not fortune
  • A dog
  • Two dogs
  • A cat
  • Two cats…