A penchant for chambermaids

Life without a computer – it sends quite a shiver down my spine, though. In the short while I have been blogging stuff has come together for me – the blog gives me somewhere to put all those random bits of writing I’ve been randomly writing all my life. Better whirling in cyberspace, unpaid and anonymous, than attracting mildew at the back of my garage and read by no one at all. It’s given me an outlet and a focus – something to achieve each day.

I suppose I would adapt and survive if all computers were suddenly beamed up by a silver spaceship, and in some ways it might be easier for me than for a younger person who has never lived without computers, and blogs, their little furry inhabitants. I would keep on writing, but the blog would become a paper object, a combination of diary, “essais” as Montaigne called them, commonplace book, notebook and attempted fiction. I would miss having readers – probably more even than I want to imagine at the moment. One half of writing is expressing oneself, the other half is communicating. Without a reader I would have lost half my reason for writing but probably not all of it. I’d still derive a certain amount of satisfaction from keeping up with my diary/notebook in obscurity. And after all, what else would there be to do?

I do hope that another time around I’d be more organised – work out some sort of format or system and stick to it. No more rusty paperclips, scraps of paper and overflowing cardboard boxes. All in the one place, and indexed. Ideally I’d be a latter-day Pepys, sitting down at my desk to write of an evening, in longhand, in a series of beautiful ledgers. Maybe even by candle-light, though a periwig might be excessive. Maybe I’d even invent a code, as he did. It would be amusing to write ream upon ream of stuff in hieroglyphs that would occupy scholars for centuries to come, trying to translate. Of course I don’t have as much to hide as Pepys, who went about the King’s business and needed to be discreet. He also had a clever and somewhat shrewish French wife and a penchant for chambermaid-fumbling. The bits in plain English are juicy enough.

But as for life without a computer, that would be inconvenient. I live in a remote place and if I had to rely on the village shop – well, I couldn’t. There’s hardly anything in it. Try feeding eighteen cats from a shop that puts out four tins of cat food per day and thinks that party balloons, plastic clothes pegs, can openers and little sewing kits are more important than bread and baked beans. If I didn’t have the computer I would need to be somewhere else post haste, always assuming that I had the choice. If computers suddenly ceased to exist, I’m guessing we would see a mass flight to towns and cities. Baby boomers especially would be on the move, trying to insure themselves against a computerless old age.

Even selling houses. Imagine it, without Zoopla and Rightmove. Virtual window-shopping would be out and endless trailing round estate agents’ offices and leafing through sheaves of property details would be in: no sidestepping the over-attentive oily charm and the hard sell then. Instead of eliminating a lot of unsuitable properties via some practised snooping on Google Maps – doing that dizzy-making thing with the arrows to see how wide the street is, whether there’s parking or a dirty great un-photographed factory opposite – we’d have to actually go there. What a waste of time.

And emails – no more emails. Back to handwritten letters with stamps on. Postcards, even. I wouldn’t mind that: it would be nice to hear that papery rustle on the doormat and not be absolutely certain it was either a bill or a colourful candidate for the recycling box.


I’ve just been dipping into an ancient blog which I was posting into from 26th of April 2003 to 22nd October 2006. Well, technically it was a blog but really it was little more than a personal diary gone public. I hadn’t grasped the concept of blogging for an audience as yet.

I remember the day my then-computer was delivered; I had the evening before acrimoniously broken up with the gentleman-in-name-only who had been going to set it up for me. Good riddance to him but bad timing. So there I was with a monster cardboard box containing a monstrous monitor, a monstrous computer box-thingy, a monstrous keyboard, a monstrous mouse, miles of monstrous cables ending in pluggy-in bits, and a multitude of sockets in the back of the monitor where any of the pluggy-in bits might or might not be plugged in. Plus some diagrams which I knew it would be pointless even to look at at. I’m afraid I do such things the ‘man’ way – set everything out on the carpet, put all the little nuts and bolts in a teacup and guess. If something doesn’t work I wrench it apart and start again. I get cross and exhausted but usually succeed eventually. Then I entirely forget how I did it.

I had never set up a computer before. At work we had a computer engineer. He (they were always he’s) set the machines up in the first place and he it was who would saunter along and make them better if they went wrong. In addition I was emotional. Traumatised, tear-stained and hiccupping, I set to work. That was around midday. By 10 o’clock I had a thumping headache but the computer was working. And in only ten hours.

My Stone Age blog was called Blue, with Stars. I’ve lost the username and password for it and can now only view it via a bookmarked link. It was called Blue, with Stars because of the little paragraph, which I used as a heading:

The robes of Wizardesses are blue with stars. The robes of Wizards are green with stars. And there are still Others, of whom little is known and less is said, whose robes are beyond description being of all the colours of the rainbow, and none. But all have stars.

This meant quite a lot to me but probably nothing at all to my readers, assuming I had any. It’s the first paragraph of a fairy story I wrote, or half-wrote, which was mislaid in one of my house moves. Midwinter, it was called. Maybe I’ll have a go at rewriting it.

Predictably, much of Blue, with Stars is tedious to read back and not recyclable. Nowadays I write for different reasons – to entertain, amuse, or at any rate contact other people, so I’m putting much more effort into it, searching around for more varied subject matter and editing and rewriting more carefully.

Re-reading an old diary can be a double-edged sword, a queasy business. There am I, but somehow twelve years younger and sounding twelve years younger. I want to shout to her ‘Look out!’ and ‘Don’t do that, you twerp!’ And then there is the inevitable sense of loss. What happened to the ‘me’ still marginally attractive enough to have a gentleman-in-name-only with whom to part company acrimoniously?

And then the exasperation on discovering that some of the things I have been posting about recently I was already posting about twelve years ago. I recently wrote a post, for example, called A BRUSH WITH HERBERT. I thought I was being clever with that title until I discover that on Saturday, May 21, 2005 I wrote a post in Blue, with Stars entitled – guess what – A Brush with Herbert. I think I may append the old post to the newer one for comparison. But can I really have been thinking the same things over and over, coming up with the same bright ideas and then ignoring or forgetting them, then coming up with them all over again? It’s Groundhog Day.

But it’s all grist to the mill* – seems a shame to waste it – so I decided every now and then to ‘lift’ selected high- or low-lights from Blue, with Stars should I happen to have posted something ‘lift-able’ on the equivalent of today’s date in 2003, 2004, 2005 or 2006. This is how it’s done on the Pepys Diary website http://www.pepysdiary.com/ Currently, for example, they are showing Pepys’ entry for Sunday 24 August 1662

(Lord’s day). Slept till 7 o’clock, which I have not done a very great while, but it was my weariness last night that caused it.

So rose and to my office till church time, writing down my yesterday’s observations, and so to church, where I all alone, and found Will Griffin and Thomas Hewett got into the pew next to our backs …

Pepys Diary website is excellent … it looks good, and it enables a busy person to follow one of our greatest and most prolific diarists without having to plough through the whole thing, end to end, which would probably take almost as long as the Dickens Challenge. Reading him this way also gives you a chance to ‘savour’ not only Pepys’ personality but the historical context in which he wrote.

So to kick off Blue, with Stars, and a few days late, here is part of the post for:

Saturday, August 23, 2003

Rosie is asleep on my lap. I wonder if all kittens are red hot, or is it only this one? She doesn’t seem ill or anything. She did get a bit of a fright this afternoon when the carpet-fitters finally arrived this afternoon to do the bedroom – leapt off my back, lacerating in the process, and went and hid under the dressing table until well after they had gone. It’s funny, she’s so bold most of the time, it hadn’t occurred to me she might be frightened of strange men. And they did hammer a lot. I thought the house might fall down. Put the mockers on the tear-jerking ending of Whistle Down The Wind, when ‘Jesus’ finally has to leave.

I’ve been watching that programme (can’t remember the name, there are so many similar ones) where contestants sing each week and the public votes to keep them in, or not. They are all so unutterably – mediocre. I can see each and every one of them singing on a cruise ship, to an audience of old ladies and slick lounge lizard types in white naval uniforms. One degree better than karaoke.

Have been exploring BookCrossing but am still trying to pluck up courage to release a book into the wild. I just think someone will see me. And they’re bound to run after me with it …

# posted @ 7:23 PM

Rosie, a tiny black kitten, had been rescued from a country road in Norfolk by one of the lady solicitors I worked for at the time. Rosie must have lost her mother and been wandering for some days. We thought maybe the mother was one of the gypsies’ cats, since my boss said it was an isolated area. She was then driven all round the M25 in a cardboard box, in hot weather, and brought to me. Thin, dehydrated and with diarrhoea, she was in a much worse way than I realised during that invasion of the carpet-fitters. However, the vet saved her and Rosie and I are still together twelve years and two house moves later. She is the ‘rosie’ element of my blogging name. I will plonk in a picture of her with this post.

* Apparently George Orwell in his essay Politics and the English Language (1946) dismissed ‘grist to the mill’ as a dying metaphor. Well, George – dead, dying or whatever – I just used it.