Of cats in cupboards and head-banging to Rita Ora

This is not the most genteel of areas, and the many cats I have rescued from it do seem to reflect that. They are… delinquents.

A few days ago Henry climbed onto the back of the sofa behind my head and sneezed, voluminously, all over my face. Of course, then I got a sore throat, sneezes, snuffles… I thought cat viruses were not transferrable to humans but Henry’s seem to be. Although of course I could just as easily have picked it up from some unhygienic surface at the hospital whilst waiting for my appointment.

Then there are the fights between Nicholas the three-legged cat (aka Hoppity) and Snoots (aka Snooty-Poops). For two practically identical black and white cats they don’t seem to like each other at all and it was one of their yowling, snarling, rolling around sessions that resulted in a savagely bitten hand for me, and a whole unpleasant series of subsequent events.

Last night they engaged in another of their seven-legged wrestling matches leaving the living room floor ankle deep in black and white fur ‘feathers’ – which of course I had to clear up.

And then the TV started acting spookily – nothing to do with cats you might think. It was off, but then suddenly it was on, and then off. And then strange menus started appearing on the screen and scary choices being made on drop-down menus. To avoid stress and confusion I never touch anything on a remote control apart from Channel Change, Volume and Up & Down. I get by perfectly well with those. But of course cats are more adventurous. One of them was standing on it, and paddling about randomly with her great, furry feet.

And then there are the piles of sick hidden behind sofas – anywhere you might not look for a few days – or right in the middle of the landing where you cannot help but tread. There are the ripped net curtains (I have now thrown out all net curtains and use decorative plastic film instead) and the shredded water-bottle tops, the taps with teethmarks on them, the spectacle arms that suddenly become rough and scratchy where someone has had a jolly good chew when I wasn’t looking.

I have a cat who – with great difficulty and much contortion of his flexible feline self – stoops to drink from the toilet, when there are two large bowls of fresh water right outside the door. I have one who leaves piles of aromatic poo on top of the kitchen cabinets, too high for a human to see. It’s a process of elimination. If you can’t see one in any of the usual places get out the telescopic mirror and run it along the top of the cabinet like a periscope.

I have cats who turn the taps on when I am out, meaning I come home to gushing (expensive) hot water. I now have to remember to tie the two taps together with a child’s elastic hairband, before I go out. I have cats who turn on the cooker gas taps, so when I leave the house I have to cover them with a plastic box.

I have a cat who tries to help the iron to do the ironing, and one who sits on the mouse mat and tethers the mouse and its cord to the desk. There she sits, mournfully, reflecting upon life in general. Sometimes for a change she comes and sits in front of the screen so I can’t see what I’m typing.

I have a cat who jumps into the food cupboard every time I open the door, and cannot be removed without scattering tins and packets all over the place. Usually all that is visible of her is the rear end, tail defiantly aloft, and all that can be heard is the sound of her licking the top biscuit of an open packet of digestives.

This morning, driving cross-country round twisty country lanes, it suddenly occurred to me that since I stood no chance of beating the moggies at their little games I might as well join them. I decided to become – gradually – a Delinquent Pensioner.

All my life I have modified my behaviour, shall we say, partly so as not to be a nuisance to my fellow human beings but mainly so as not to be conspicuous. That was the overwhelming theme of my childhood:

Do not draw attention to yourself!!!

We were taught to walk quietly, eat quietly and with our mouths closed, never put our elbows on the table (except for Dad, who could do whatever he liked) – hell, even think quietly. We were taught to keep our opinions to ourselves. We were taught to laugh discreetly and never, never raise our voices to the level that other people were forced to overhear our conversations. We were little mice, and I was the Arch-Mouse.

So, ever since I have been driving – since 1980 or thereabouts – I have tried to resist the temptation to dance to the car radio. Know what I mean – that jiggling about, head-banging activity when your favourite song comes on? Not enough to sing along to it (quietly, tunelessly, missing out most of the words, getting out of breath) – you have to dance. Whilst driving.

Now, I have always tried to suppress my natural in-car jiggly-ness because people behind might laugh, or people behind might think I was a dangerous driver, or people might think it inappropriate to be singing at the top of my voice and head-banging along to Rita Ora:

Over the hills and far away
A million miles from L.A
Just anywhere away with you…

But this morning I did.

Think you can misbehave, Moggies?


You ain’t seen nothing yet!


Hospitals are not my natural milieu, you might say

(she types, wincingly, with injured paw).

I mean, I just don’t go with the décor. Sitting in the Friends of the Hospital shop toying with a Styrofoam cup of unlikely-coloured tea with rapidly submerging tea-bag

(the dangly bit fell in)

is not my idea of Christmas Eve. I have bought a TV listings magazine to pass the time until I make my way to the clinic for my appointment

(if you don’t arrive before ten a.m. there are no parking spaces till tomorrow before ten a.m.)

but it contains nothing but staged photos of soap-opera actors pretending to be anguished, because it’s Christmas, and everyone knows Christmas is the perfect time to murder your missus and bury her beheath the patio.

(I hate soaps.)

At least it’s different. I mean, what else would I have been doing over Christmas? Compared to sitting in the conservatory with my mother for three silent hours listening to the clock ticking, and maybe knitting a row or two, driving 23.3 miles to the nearest A&E hospital

(and the same back)

four days in a row

(yes four, including Christmas Day)

to have my bitten hand prodded and redressed and antibiotics injected into some miniature piece of yellow or blue plastic bandaged into to my arm for the duration, this is actually quite exciting. This hospital is almost beginning to feel like a Home From Home. Like Home, without the cat litter and the non-functioning lightbulbs

(they are packing up in some mysterious sequence – it may be a code)

and Bertie ringing me up at 1.30 in the morning saying he thinks he’s dying but he’s not sure what of and it could be his waterworks but it might be his throat… or his psoriasis… and now I’ve got a car would I mind driving him to the hospital because an ambulance will never arrive in time… but that’s another story.

I may not tell it. Maybe it would be unkind? It probably would be unkind. But I may still tell it, because in spite of the nurse telling me I was a kind person, really I’m a bit of a moo.

I might tell it…

Suffice it for now to say that Nurse has instructed me to instruct Bertie next time he telephones in the middle of the night that the Nurse has ordered me to conserve my strength at the moment or my hand won’t get better. She says the technique is to be apologetic, kindly, sympathetic but not of any actual practical use over and over again. Eventually, she says, the person gets the message.

(I do not think Bertie is of a constitution to get any message, ever, but maybe her advice would be worth a try. It was kind of her to offer it, whilst slowly squeezing cold stuff into my arm from an enormous syringe.)

You will be please to hear

(I hope you are not reading this over your Christmas Dinner)

that although my cat-savaged hand still looks like the surface of some distant red planet, with scattered, erupting volcanoes, and feels as sore as the surface of such a planet must feel after aeons of being erupted under and onto by volcanoes, the hand itself has now returned to normal size. It originally swelled up and looked like the puffer fish featured above, without the mouth and the funny little fins. And at that point, of course, I could not drive although the taxi driver

(I have met quite a few taxi drivers in the past few days)

did explain to me that I could probably change gear for 23.3 miles by pushing the gear stick with the puffer-fish-type hand. He has obviously had to drive this way in the past so as to maintain his livelihood. A truly scary thought.

There’s a few good things about stuff like this. You get to chat to people you would never have chanced to meet, in your life. This morning, for example, I spent a couple of minutes with a middle-European lady who was allergic to painkillers, who was suffering from the most agonising bad back I have ever witnessed someone trying to walk along with. I think she must have slipped a disc. Even sitting still, talking to me, she was pausing to scream at intervals. I wished – I jut wished, at that point – that I possessed those healing hands, the sort you can just lay on or hover above people, to take away their pain. But hopefully they will find at least one painkiller she is not allergic to.

You may find out things about yourself you would never otherwise have known. I discovered via the blood tests that though  I may not have sepsis (may not, presumably I’d feel a bit iller if I had) I do have anaemia. So now I have iron tablets. How exciting! This may be the beginning of the inevitable metamorphosis into one of those old ladies with a medicine cupboard bursting with cardboard boxes of tablets for this and tablets for that…

And you get to master new skills, if only tiny ones. I am a coward, you see. I tend to avoid doing stuff that’s stressful, and for me, anything I haven’t done before, anything new, tends to get avoided. New cars contain many such skills, and I have been avoiding learning them all. In case I couldn’t. In case it was stressful.

But last night, thanks to Bertie and his hyponchondria/panic attack demand to be whisked to the Community Hospital (only about 6 miles away) I was forced to work out where the button was to switch on the headlights


and this morning, in anticipation of having to retrieve a car-park ticket from one of those scary yellow machines via the car window so that the barrier would lift, I had to devote some time to deducing how to open windows in a car so very modern it has no handle to wind. At all. And then I managed the drive to the hospital, round one of the worst-designed many-laned roundabouts of all time

(get in your lane well in advance and don’t whatever you do move out of it till you get to the other side: taxi driver)

and bought petrol, even though the petrol place is on completely the wrong side of the car and there is no cap just some sort of hole

and found my way on Christmas Eve through dense traffic in an unfamiliar town, and actually found a parking space, and then actually managed to reverse the entire sequence

(apart from buying petrol, which would have been silly)

on the way back.

Into a ditch with Mozart

When I was younger, so much younger than today…

I was driving my wonky little old car across the Marsh. (One of a series of wonky little old cars.) I think this was the wonky little old red one.

Anyway, I was listening to Mozart, on a tape. Shows you how long ago it was. I was on my way to work.

I was listening to Mozart because he was the only classical composer I could think of the name of. I grew up in an uncultural environment. My mother was a fan of Matt Monro (the singing bus driver) – who died. Also Jim Reeves, who had a very deep voice. And died. My mother cried the day that Jim Reeves died, just as I cried the day John Lennon got shot.

My father liked to sing along to Sing Something Simple, which as far as I remember was Sunday lunchtimes on the radio. Oh, home on the range, he used to croon, melodiously, with the requisite tinge of an American accent, where the deer and the antelope roam… Well, we all used to croon.

My ex-husband was far more educated, musically, than I. He used to play blues guitar, and some classical pieces. I would listen to him in amazement, though it was depressing. I had once wanted to play the guitar and now – how could I?

He was nine years older than me and remembered jazz and folk, obscure (to me) blues singers from the thirties and forties – and all sorts of stuff that I was only able to love and appreciate after I had left him. He even knew about Early Music and the Aeolian mode, and the pentatonic scale, and polyphony. Now I love that stuff (though I still couldn’t explain the Aeolian mode) but I never used to listen to him when he started going on about it. Every time he started to reveal even an edge of his massively greater knowledge of just about everything I would bristle and switch off. Grrr…

But at one point, even while I was married to him, I realised that I did want to learn about Classical Music. I kept secret my experimentation with tapes (borrowed from the public library) because he would no doubt make me feel inadequate yet again if I told him. Telling him anything seemed to result in a helpful, university-type lecture. I accidentally made mention of helicopters once and was treated to a whole lunch hour’s disquisition on torque.

So I was playing Mozart, rather loudly, in the wonky little old car as I drove in to work. It had been raining overnight and the road was muddy, and then this blackbird flew out, really low, and of course I braked

People afterwards kept saying You braked for a BLACKBIRD? You crashed your car into a ditch and nearly killed yourself to save the life of a BIRD? Which only really goes to show that it’s more than skin deep, my belief that all life is sacred and all of absolutely equal value. Not killing birds,  slugs, ants or any living thing – not even carving my name into the bark of a tree or removing a stone from its resting place, is programmed into me. I am those things, and they are me.

Anyway, I was in this ditch for only about ten minutes. I couldn’t find the switch to turn Mozart off, and anyway I do believe I was shaking. So weird, that long, rightwards and downwards Mozartesque slither. So balletic. Then I understood that thing about time slowing down. And all around me were kind of weeds and tiny trees – a tiny tree had impeded my further descent – the Marsh ditches are major drainage channels, and deeper than average – and the road was now… somewhere up there!

I wasn’t sure what to do next, so I grabbed my handbag. Women always grab their handbags, I think. I pushed the car door open as far as it would go, which wasn’t all the way. Brambles. There was a sort of latticework of vegetation but no clear indication of where the actual bank was. I looked at my work shoes. High(ish) heels. I looked at my work tights. The tights were for it.

But shortly two, or maybe three cars stopped and two, or maybe three kind men came running from various directions and pulled me out of the ditch. One of them gave me a lift home. By this time I was shaking like a leaf and couldn’t stop talking. I remember thinking, stop talking, you wally! But I couldn’t.

My car was a write-off. It didn’t look too badly damaged but apparently its engine and all its working parts were kind of jammed up with mud. I never saw it again. Somebody must have dragged it out and disposed of it.

I have since listened with pleasure to a wide range classical composers, and have become a particular fan of Thomas Tallis. But Mozart? Poor Mozart, I can no longer listen to him.

Things I’ll never do again

You’re supposed to write a list for this one.

Come on, think, think! There must be a whole lot of things you’ll never do again – or would that be a whole lot of things you never did in the first place and now it’s too late.

I’ll never again…

Go shopping in Oxford Street. No money. Never any money. Air pollution and far too many people.

Paddle at the seaside. I’d like to think I would, and no physical reason not to. But if I did – ah, if I did it might all come back, the wash of the little waves, the smell of seaweed, the way pebbles change colour under water – and I might never leave…

Visit the house I grew up in and find it anything but empty – no Mum, knitting in the living room; beavering away up the top of the garden and not hearing the doorbell; making a huge fuss of a bony, toothless cat that’s just trying to get some shut-eye; standing confused in the kitchen, wondering why she’s in there or listening to her voices coming in from outside through the cupboards.

Fly in an aeroplane. Nowhere to go. And who wants to risk weird people diverting you to Cyprus on a whim?

Write a really brilliant poem and think, at the end of it, that’s what I’m alive for. Poetry is like mathematics – a game for the young. Though skill remains; the muse deserts us all.

Write a novel. I wrote a novel, once. It was one of those Mills & Boons. I thought someone might pay me to write soft porn, which would free me up for my own version of War & Peace. Mills & Boon were very kind. Quite a long rejection slip, with suggestions for improvement; a recommendation not to rewrite this one but to start afresh. I gather if they really hate you, you just get a little square slip: No Thanks. But, to be honest, I haven’t got it in me to write long stuff. As my ancient friend Michel de Montaigne once put it:

…I am a sworn foe to constraint, assiduity, and perseverance; and that nothing is so foreign to my style as an extended narrative.

Walk all round the British Isles. Not that I ever did, but I planned to, once.

Buy a car – well, I suppose you can never say never. I live in hopes of an elderly and as yet undiscovered Australian uncle leaving me pots and pots of gold – but he’d have to be pretty ancient to be my uncle – in which case he’d be dead by now. My car and I will see each other out – she with her mended windscreen, a big gouge out of the dashboard, various bits like headrests gone missing and several red and orange lights permanently flashing. Me with… Well, me with. She’ll fall to bits one day – or like Mum I’ll forget how to drive her. The roads I once knew so well will overnight turn into spaghetti to match my brain, and that will be that for us both.

Maybe something old with plenty of beams…

So I was sitting in the car eating a Tesco sandwich and saving till last the Yorkie Bar ladies are not allowed to eat. I only permit myself chocolate bars on these in-the-car occasions, which usually follow inexplicable road trips back to the town where I used to live. Somehow I am drawn back to the Tesco’s there at intervals. It makes me feel safe – comforted. I tend to go there when I’m stressed. I know – how weird can you get? It’s just that – that Tesco’s is kind of the centre of my ‘map’.

I’m even worrying myself now.

So, I drive all the way down there, which takes an hour and twenty minutes and uses petrol I can’t afford. I nearly always get stuck in three separate traffic bottlenecks, which wastes even more petrol. And the sun is usually in my eyes on the way down. I have these pathetic old eyes nowadays – I can see out of them same as ever, via specs, but the sun hurts them – a lot. I have therefore taken to wearing giant wrap-around ‘overglasses’. But as soon as I put them on, people – especially men, for some reason – start honking at me. I can see much better in strong sunlight with the overglasses over my prescription glasses, but I suppose they may give me the air of a doddery, nearly-blind-person, still irresponsibly driving. No doubt I spook people. Tee hee.

By the time I return the sun will have sailed just far enough across the sky to get in my eyes all over again. Nevertheless, I seem to have to go. It’s like Therapy. Once there, I don’t usually buy much – odd stuff like cat food and magazines, sandwiches and manly chocolate bars. I drink water from a bottle I carry with me, and I read a magazine for a bit before setting off on the return journey. Sometimes I watch people – my Dad’s favourite occupation too, in his declining years. Not that I’m in my declining years as yet.

Sometimes over the top of my magazine I observe fat ladies wearing the wrong sorts of dresses; children with smartphones clamped to their little pink ears; dogs eager to get into the backs of four-by-fours and make them all muddy. And I like to watch the man who collects the trolleys from the Perspex shelters and pushes them back to the racks, from where they are immediately removed, re-used and dumped in the Perspex shelters again. He gave me my long pink scarf back once. I left it tied to a handle and he ran after me with it. I liked that long pink scarf. A modern-day Sisyphus, he is. What did he do so wrong, I wonder, this nice, kind, simple man, that the gods should have consigned him to an eternity of trolleyology at Tesco’s.

I would have made a good detective, I think. I notice stuff. Stuff that might come in useful, if I was a detective.

But on this particular day, I was actually reading the magazine, and this one was a free magazine that had fallen out of another free magazine. It was called Property and it was about (three guesses) property. I am a bit of a sucker for the useless and the glossy. I like the smell of glossy magazines, the sheer opulent shininess of them, the newness. And I’m thinking about moving house myself, so I suppose Property is lurking about in my brain at the moment.

But not this sort of property. This is the sort of stuff that costs £520,000. It’s fun to window-shop, though. I like to imagine myself in “a handsome country cottage with fantastic rural views” or a Desirable Detached Stone-Built Period House: 4 Bedrooms: Contemporary Family Bathroom: 4 good sized reception rooms… 4 reception rooms!!

What is a reception room?

I do rather crave a “long rear Garden adjoining a meadow” – adjoining a meadow… Ohhhh – a meadow – all those pretty flowers – and a “Fabulous Detached Studio Home Office or Guest Room”.

And they say money can’t buy you happiness. If only I could just try it…

But I came upon a nasty surprise. In the centrefold feature, a misguided estate agent had taken it upon him(or her)self to write poems on behalf of clients searching for Properties as opposed to selling them. Don’t you just hate the sort of poems people who can’t write poems write? I loathe the very assumption that as long as it more or less rhymes, it’s poetry. No matter if it scans, even. What’s scans?

Here are just a few, for your delectation and delight:

My Belgium (sic) clients are coming to Kent / A period property would be heaven sent / A rural retreat complete with a view / Entertaining clients is something he has to do / business or pleasure he needs great space, / A garden, a pool to relax the pace… / Although this fine gent would like to play – London still often calls him away / Thus transport to London for the working day… / Can you help this man find his work rest and play?

(This one was superimposed over a faded-out photo of a swimming-pool)

A young city couple, looking to escape the rat race / Would like a rural, leafy retreat with plenty of outside space / Looking for two or three bedrooms for their family to increase / Must have plenty of character and set in a haven of peace / A period home not far from the station / East Sussex would be their perfect location / Original features are wanted it seems / Maybe something old with plenty of beams

(This one was superimposed over a faded-out photo of an orange ban-the-bomb symbol. It took me a while to join up the dots. Haven of peace – ban nuclear weapons – sort of peaceful, innnit?)

No, it’s no good. I was going to type out a third, but I just can’t bear to. My fingers refuse to obey my brain.



I wake up this morning with a very clear concept in my head but can’t access the word for it. For goodness sake! I grumble as I stumble about in my slippers and dressing gown searching for my glasses – under a cat – glasses and the TV remote are a hundred percent certain to be under a cat – gathering a teetering stack of licked-clean cat-dishes, refreshing bulldog-sized water bowls and hitting the power button on my computer.

Word, word, what are you? I implore as I fill the washing-up bowl with hot water and squirt in some of that red Tesco washing-up liquid (can’t stand the green, even though it’s exactly the same substance with different colouring added).

I shall get really, really cross in a minute! I inform my brain.

Dichotomy, sighs brain.

Not dichotomy.

Yes dichotomy. Dichotomy is good enough.

Not good enough. Doesn’t at all mean what I was thinking. Well, something like what I was thinking, but not.

Well, I don’t know then, says brain in that long-suffering voice it tends to adopt with me nowadays. Why don’t you just focus on feeding these hundreds of cats?

Because I need that word!

What word?

That word. The word I’ve just been asking you to supply.


No, not dichotomy. Something similar.

Dichotomy is dichotomy is dichotomy. There either is or isn’t a dichotomy. No other word means dichotomy.

Something similar, I said.

Beginning with K?

For God’s sake, why should it begin with K?

It just sort of came to me that it might. Call it intuition.

You don’t have intuition. I have intuition. You – you have the little grey cells that are all supposed to fire at once and supply me with words as and when I want them and not THREE WEEKS LATER.

And why do you require this particular word at seven o’clock in the morning?

I do, that’s all. I woke up requiring it.


Not dichotomy.

Beginning with a K?

Why should it begin with a K? No, don’t think so.

Well, what does it mean then? Try talking around it, or maybe just give up and feed those cats. Or maybe pull the curtains or fix yourself a bowl of Weetabix?

Don’t want Weetabix. Want the word for… for when two contradictory or opposing conditions exist at the same time and both are in some sense true.



Much later that morning, driving towards the traffic lights at the crossroads, which as usual are out of order – meaning that some cars are gingerly intersecting the computed trajectories of others whilst other cars are merely launching themselves at great speed in the general direction they want to achieve because everybody knows if you accelerate hard enough a path will perforce be cleared – the word finally surfaces with a sudsy ‘plop’ in the washing-up bowl of my working memory.



Paradox, paradox, paradox. I shall write it down before it escapes again.

Paradox, paradox.

You can’t write it down since you’re currently accelerating towards these broken traffic lights; and anyway you forgot to put a new little notebook in that mysterious tiny compartment just past the gear stick, the one with all the dead car park stickers in it, and a mutant hairgrip and a 2p piece that has somehow managed to remain shiny even though it has been in that same mysterious tiny compartment for the past two and a half years. And anyway, what have you done with the pencil? There was a nice sharp one trapped in the fold of the passenger seat all last week. Why must you keep tidying things away? If only you’d just let them rest where they landed instead of officiously…what was that word again?


Unnaturally Birds

I remember when we were driving / In the summer of seventy-three, / We were talking, but of nothing, / That’s the way it would always be; / And how much I longed to touch you / And to say I understood. / But I never did, my dearest / And like you, I never could.

For months it had rained on England, / There was green in every tree, / And we flew along those country roads / Beneath the canopy, / In our second skin of metal / And our third skin of words, / Pretending to be human, / Unnaturally birds.

I wonder when you die, my dear, / Will I see you as you are, / Or will you drift away again / To perch on a different star?



Do you ever get those nights when your head is too full of ideas to let you sleep? Nights in pink neon. And it doesn’t help to have cats warring over your supine body.

I want her pillow.

No ‘smine. You can have the feet.


Like most writers I keep a notebook by the bed, but the more you write things down the more things seem to need to be written down. Each time I heave myself upright, displacing a cat or two, grope for the light, then the pencil falls on the floor…

Last night was one of those. It seemed to be a night for inventions. I don’t normally think of myself as an inventor, not like that woman who invented the rubber suction gadget for sticking on your kitchen wall and pushing your tea-towel into. Whatever happened to those? I suppose they went the way of the lava lamp, the knitting-machine and the pressure-cooker. My mother had a knitting-machine: you couldn’t hear the TV over it. Bloke down the road from me’s still got a lava lamp, and one of those lit-up waterfall pictures, and year-round fairy lights, and a karaoke machine. I had a pressure-cooker, once. I forgot to add water and it kind of went booooom and became like a football. The makers wouldn’t replace it. I hated it anyway. Wedding present.

But – all those ideas.

Well the first one was inspired by that message I saw in the rear windscreen of the giant tattooed man’s car yesterday. Why not, I thought, have a pink neon strip built into the rear windscreen of cars, so that digital letters could move along…and along…and along…like on the trains . That way you could do so much more than signalling to the driver behind you.

You could be terse and to the point:


You could be flirty:

Hi there, big guy! 

Hi there, sweetie pie!!

You could even be intellectual:

…that BEHIND a VITAL religious life for the WEST there has be FAITH which is not expressed in things to which one CLINGS…

But it would need to be voice-activated; you couldn’t be tapping stuff in at the same time as driving. And it probably wouldn’t work that well if you were English:

I say, er, excuse me. Sorry to interrupt. Lovely day. Might get some rain later. Would you mind awfully, that is to say – just a smidge too close to the bumper. Hope you don’t mind my pointing this out, but…

Then you’d need a catchy name. Rear-speak? Window-witter? Glass-blast?

Still on a transport theme, what about lorries with their blind-spots lit up in red? There’s a really big area to the front, sides and indeed the rear of a lorry where it’s terribly dangerous for a cyclist or pedestrian to be. Well, if those areas were lit up in red – or any colour really – if you were a cyclist or pedestrian you’d know not to go into them. Or at least you wouldn’t be surprised when you got mangled.

Then babies. Supposing you could turn them down a bit? Something like a remote control for times when they were screaming, in restaurants, while you and a friend you hadn’t seen for three weeks were trying to catch up on the gossip and you were both a bit deaf. But how could that be achieved? You’d have to have some sort of electronic baby.

And then it occurred to me that you could have a kind of inflatable life jacket for books. You’d read the book in the bath in the jacket. The moment you lost your grip on the book and gravity was inexorably drawing it down towards the soapy water beneath, motion sensors would pull some kind of rip cord and the jacket would inflate around the book, thus saving it from a watery fate and three days of attempting to dry itself out in the airing cupboard, telling itself that as soon as it was dry it was going to look as good as new.

And then I thought. Maybe if I go downstairs, microwave a mug of milk, lie on the sofa and watch low-volume repeats of River Cottage, programmes about the secret life of dogs and how tornadoes happen. That usually works.



‘smy turn for that pillow!

Where have the feet gone?

Heaven won’t have me and hell’s afraid I’ll take over

Today I found myself stopped at a red light behind one of those in-your-face shiny black cars – very high off the ground so that the driver can look down on the likes of you and me, costing at least three years of the likes of your or my wages and never taking up less than one and a half parking spaces. And I don’t know why – I was musing, about meeting my friends for coffee later, then going to Tesco to buy more yoghurts because I had run out and I did like a nice yoghurt with a spoonful of honey for my tea – and I suppose it could have been a senior moment – but I was looking up at this in-your-face shiny black car and I thought:

That’s a very big man! Gosh, he’s taking up both of the front seats.

It was an easy mistake to make. Anyone could have made it. Out of the near-side window dangled a meaty left arm, heavily and colourfully-tattooed. Between the first two fingers of the hand was a newly-lit cigarette. Out of the driver’s-side window dangled a meaty right arm, also heavily and colourfully-tattooed, and also with a newly-lit cigarette. From inside the car came metallic, head-banging, in-your-face music. Smoke drifted back to me, raw and summery, reminding me of college campuses and lazing around on grassy banks on blazing hot afternoons instead of going to lectures…

Wow! I thought – still with half a mind on other things: the red light about to turn green; the traffic sliding to a stop in several parallel lanes; the traffic facing us, also raring to go.

He must some kind of fitness instructor! Or a cage-wrestler!

Two entire seats!

And at no point did it occur to me to wonder how this spectacular specimen was able to change gear and operate the hand-brake, since his massive, muscular hindquarters would be covering both gear stick and brake. Neither did it occur to me that even if he had invented an ingenious method of doing so, he couldn’t have. Not with a lighted cigarette in either hand.

Xindi nanobots had invaded my brain and were scrambling my neural circuits… And then – maybe I shook my head or something, meaning they cascaded out of my ears, those little metal perishers –

Ah – two seats – two men – one arm per man – one cigarette per arm – ah!

They were some way down the road and I was turning right before I recalled something else: that long message-strip in the rear view window, spookily highlighted by the red rear light:

Heaven Won’t Have Me and Hell’s Afraid I’ll Take Over

In which case, if there were two separate men, to be totally accurate the strip should have read:

Heaven Won’t Have Us and Hell’s Afraid We’ll Take Over…

No wonder I got it wrong.