Fogy or FOGO?

Amongst the British public, apparently, FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) has been replaced by FOGO (Fear of Going Out). Little by little they have been easing the restrictions that kept us locked down for months. In the past few days there has been quite a rush to ease this and ease that. Basically, now, almost everything is open, almost everybody can go almost anywhere and almost nobody understands where they can go, how close to anybody else they can stand, whether they can get on an aeroplane, when they need to wear a mask, etc etc. Basically, nobody has the energy to untangle it all, so they are just doing what they think.

I suppose I’m one of those Old, or New, Fogos.  Technically shielding – the strictest of all the lockdowns – will be suspended from August the first. Which means it might be reapplied if everyone starts dying again – as no doubt they will – but possibly on a regional ‘whack-a-mole’ basis, as the PM puts it. Meanwhile I could in theory now “bubble” with – I forget how many friends, relatives or households, whether outdoors or indoors, whether two metres apart or one. Since I have actually no friends, relatives or households within “bubbling” distance, and since I wouldn’t be “bubbling” even if hypothetical Loved Ones were to ask me to – I don’t really need to have memorised the details.

I have decided I’m Not Going Out until such time as there is a vaccine and I, and everyone else has had one. I can’t see how the situation has changed. The virus is still there, un-mutated, un-modified etc, and I still have my “underlying health condition”. I thought about it and decided I would rather die of the “underlying, etc, etc” than this virus, since the virus I have at least something of a choice about. I don’t want to go into hospital and be unconscious and gasping on some awful machine for weeks. I’d rather fade away gently, over years, and at a totally unpredictable rate. Besides, the cats require their two-legged Tin Opener. They have given me a stern talking to – Cats Come First, Mummy.

I have decided to live in the 1950s for a bit. I found a set of six “Miss Reads” on eBay, and they arrived from Cornwall this morning. There are hundreds (well, slight exaggeration – an awful lot) of Miss Read’s chronicling the uneventful life of two villages and a village schoolmistress. I remember them from years back. Comfort Reading. I intend to gradually munch my way through Miss Read, one second-hand paperback at a time – yet another pointless-but-pleasurable project. I have taped up a list on one of the kitchen cupboards, and am crossing them off as I go, to avoid duplicate purchases.

The above is a picture of a scarf – you didn’t know that, did you? – and I have been working on it it, in between all my other half-finished and largely pointless craft projects, for weeks. It is going to be 63″ long. I am starting to use up all the odds and ends in my “stash” – or rather “stashes” since I’ve got both a wool one and a fabric one. I feel a bit silly sitting indoors in a heatwave – curtains closed against the searing heat – knitting a thick woolly scarf of enormous and unnecessary length whilst binge-watching gaelic-language portrait-painting and farmhouse cookery programmes on i-Player, but somebody’s got to do it.

Until just now I hadn’t the faintest idea what to do with the scarf, once finished. Could I sell it on eBay – use the proceeds to purchase a few more Miss Reads? I was in the middle of washing up when inspiration struck – Canadian sister. It would pad out the Christmas present, and weighing relatively little would not incur too much postage. What better place for a giant, multicoloured scarf than Canada? Or, as they say in the top half of Scotland – something that sounds like a-Hannada.

I did start trying to teach myself Scottish Gaelic before, but gave up. It was too much for me – the way the spelling, the sound and the meaning of a word were totally unrelated, and furthermore, all had a tendency to shift and mutate according to what sort of grammatical state you happened to have stumbled into. But this time I seem to have got over my fury at the un-Englishness of it all. I am delighted to learn that a rabbit is a rabad, pronounced something like – rebbich! – with lots of spit. Except when it’s a coineanaich, pronounced conyanyocccchhh. Probably.

Well, you’ve got to keep busy somehow.

Haven’t you, George?

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Who’d a thunk it?

Firstly, I have realised something about my fridge-freezer. It isn’t. I bought it thinking the bottom half was a freezer because, after all, top or bottom, one half of a fridge-freezer is always a freezer, isn’t it?

I suppose I did vaguely wonder, over the eight months or so that this great white monster, larger than any fridge I ever owned before, purchased in a fit of post Brexit/Apocalyptic prepping, was not actually making the many loaves of cheap sliced bread I stored in it rock hard. I had a vague memory of having to defrost frozen bread before eating but this – this was just a bit on the parky side. Half an hour in the fridge proper and Bob’ yer Uncle.

Yesterday, the on which the British Heat Record of 2003 was broken – the hottest day in Britain ever – I staggered out to the garage in search of my acrylic heart-shaped ice-cube moulds. Why they were in the garage is a long story. To do with ill-fated soap-making. I filled all the wobbly moulds with tap water and wobbled them back across the kitchen to the “freezer”, spilling quite a bit. I left them in the “freezer” and forgot about them.

The hottest day has come and gone. Canadian Sis rang up and, after an hour of (once again) advising her how to deal with her intrusive, borderline bullying next-door-neighbour and (once again) explaining that negotiating with, defending against or manoeuvring around Other People is not a generic Man’s/Husband’s Job, but something that, male of female, we all need to set our minds to sooner or later. She is so angry at her deceased husband for leaving her with all these unsuspected complications that she actually berates his Ashes, in their Urn on the mantel piece, in passing. How could you go and get cancer and leave me to deal with all this… stuff? You weren’t supposed to do that! Anyway, after that hour, I peeled the landline phone from my left cheek to find it – the phone, that is – running with sweat. No wonder it crackles.

After an appalling night spread-eagled naked on top of the bed (not as exciting as it sounds) which had somehow been wheeled into some sort of nightmarish oven full of itchy, hot cats, aching heads, lightning flashes and distant thunder, waking at fifteen minute intervals to drink lukewarm water from a row of plastic bottles, and then at thirty minute intervals to totter out to the loo to spend a penny – after which my face still looks like some puffy, puce balloon – I staggered to my “freezer”, remembering my “ice cubes”. Which of course were still unfrozen. A bit colder, perhaps, than they would have been in the fridge but definitely still liquid.

I can’t say I understand, but I think the best and cheapest option is a change of nomenclature: my fridge freezer is, henceforward, the fridge-and-ever-so-slightly-colder.

Secondly, we have a new Prime Minister. I doubt if anybody is very hopeful. Pity us poor Brits, all hope has been leached out of us – leached, I say. How could the Government have stuffed things up so very badly? How can we possibly escape from this dreadful mire? All is lost. We might once have hoped for greatness from Boris, and maybe we still do, secretly, in a dull, dispirited sort of way. However, he is if nothing else telling us to lighten up. He is standing at the Dispatch Box, waving his arms about, laughing, joking, and assuring us that everything is going to be all right. Better than all right, in fact. Fantastic! Somehow. And it’s the greatest relief. Not the extravagant promises, not the fractional likelihood of success, not the grim political odds against him, not the likelihood of this brilliant but careless man making some gaffe or blunder and thereby ruining it for himself, but the humour. Humour is our national medicine, like grass to cats. It’s the way we cope. It’s that Monty Python thing. It’s our weird, homegrown kind of courage and it’s the glue that holds us together. Irreverence, bad jokes, the refusal to take our opponents, however formidable, at all seriously; wild, wonderful laughter – is perhaps, right now, our only faint hope of a cure.

And finally, the Meaning Of Life. Never say I don’t end with a biggie. Many years ago when I was still, if precariously, living with Ex, I was driving home from work one day and fell into a kind of reverie, and out of the blue it came to me: The Meaning Of Life. Which was (wait for it) The Two Worlds Are One. I remember being overjoyed as I drove down this long, twisty country lane across the Marsh, avoiding deep ditches on either side, that The Meaning Of Life had miraculously been vouchsafed to me.

The next day, although I could remember that The Two Worlds Were One, I couldn’t for the life of me remember what that meant – or what I had thought it meant during my Road to Damascus moment. I suspect I am not the only person that has happened to.

Every since, at intervals, I have wondered whether The Two Worlds Are One meant anything at all. I mean, how likely was it that a mediocre legal secretary would intuit something that people like Einstein had been unable to tell us? But finally, cheeringly – today I opened a book called “You Are The Universe” by Deepak Chopra. It had just come through the door. I stripped off the Amazon cardboard, took a sip of coffee and opened it randomly at page 232, and there was this (subtly ungrammatical) paragraph:

“The great pause can be found in the words of a scientist, including Heisenberg and Schrödinger, who suddenly sees, quite clearly, that there is only one reality, not two. There is no inner and outer, no me and you, no mind and matter, each half guarding its own marked off territory. The realisation is like a pause because the mind has stopped conceiving of reality and now starts living it.”

Ta da!

Dead Fly Biscuits and Other Horrors

Apologies in advance for my feverish incoherence. I am on the first day of either hay fever or a cold – who knows? – plus, the Heatwave has finally arrived. In between explosive sneezes, my nose dribbles. I hate my nose today.

It’s to be a Saturday Only Heatwave, apparently. In this country we believe in Moderation. ‘Moderation in all things, Miss Nugent’, as Mr Swindley once said on Coronation Street.

Actually it’s not too hot indoors and I had planned to stay indoors until the Jehovah Gentlemen arrived. Yes, Gentlemen. Not the two Ladies who usually enliven the occasional five minutes of not really listening in my back garden, but the husband of one of them and another man with a foolish expression, in a suit – in a suit, and a tie, and a thick shirt, in the Heatwave! The Jehovah Gentlemen proved harder to either discourage or distract than the Jehovah Ladies – I tried them on cats, pets in general, hay fever, I remarked on their bravery to be trudging from door to door in this weather. Nothing deterred them.

Have you got a Bible?

Yes, I told your wife that last time. Which one was your wife, by the way?

Have you  heard of the Lord’s Prayer? How would we know the name of God if it was not for the Lord’s Prayer? It just (what just?) proves that the Bible was not written by earthly hands but has come straight from God…

I don’t care, I was thinking. My right nostril is about to gush.

And God is going to step very soon to save Mankind from all its suffering because like any Good Parent He cannot abide to see His children suffer…

The sun beat down on my poor, aching head, and standing in the long grass of my back garden, as next door’s Rottweiler-or-similar started to bark at us though the fence, I began to feel positively feverish.

The lawn so need mowing, I thought. Should have done it yesterday…

And God…

What a good thing I didn’t put my washing out yet. They would have been staring at my sad old underwear.

Here, you see, it says YHWH and that is the name of God in Roman Numerals…

I know. I did Religious Education O Level. I really must go indoors now. As I said, I’m not feeling well… and the cats…

Ah yes, my wife said you had many cats. All cats are beautiful, aren’t they? I ran a mental inventory of my cats.

Well no, not all of them.

Inside, I mean.

No, not even inside. Thinking of Snoots – he of the Poirot moustache and the supercilious glances – who recently gnawed through the plastic of my last loaf of bread, and also bit me on the hand eighteen months ago, causing cellulitis and a fortnight of daily drives to a very distant hospital for antibiotic injections.

Thinking of discovering my Catch 22 paperback under pile of watery cat-sick on the coffee table, and trying to mop it up. I had planned to read it next for no other reason than that there is a film of Catch 22 with George Clooney in it, which I will not see. Reading the book, finally, after having bought it at least 22 years ago, was the next best thing. The book is sopping wet, the cardboard of its front cover beginning to buckle. So also is the book of short stories that was under it. A cat did that.

The Bible…

I was unable to tear my eyes away from the moving mouth of the Husband One. He had false teeth, rather uneven on one side, but a sort of brown fleck in the middle of the right front one. I wondered how I had ever found men attractive. I prayed that in my next life, if I was forced to have one, I could go back in time and be a monk or a nun, or some prim ascetic living in a cave on a desert island…

I was listening to Radio 4. They were discussing their favourite ways of cooking aubergines. I thanked YHWH that I was not middle class and therefore did not need to care about cooking aubergines. Until that moment, it had had never occurred to me that an aubergine could be cooked. I had an aubergine in Devon once. I was on an ultra long-distance date with a lonely middle-aged farmer. This was in the days when I felt I needed to replace Ex with someone, even if they did live at the other end of the country and play the trumpet to their cows. Even if they didn’t believe in central heating, even in February…

Anyway, we stopped off at a supermarket on the way back from the train station to his isolated and unheated farm, and he told me one of his cows had died recently and he’d had to bury it single-handedly, and he bought some aubergines and some sort of dressing to go on them. That was OK, but it wasn’t cooked.

He smelt of cows.

He smelt very much of cows and I was a vegetarian.

Later he chased me round the kitchen table, amongst the muddy wellingtons.

He did not catch me.

I was consuming the Dead Fly biscuits instead of my usual mid-morning sandwich. They were the ones left over from a packet of Sainsbury’s assorted biscuits and I had been putting off eating them. They don’t taste too bad, it’s just the look. Even Snoots wouldn’t touch them.

I was phoning the Doro helpline about my Doro phone. Doro phones are designed for rather old people, I suppose, and are Scandinavian in origin, possibly Finnish. Like their potential users, Doro phones are short on memory. Also, they tend to flash up simple but strangely unsettling phrases like ‘Welcome to Internet’ and ‘Apps For Home’.

I explained to the Finnish (or alternative Scandinavian) lady that my Doro phone would not let me move any single one of my apps to the new 32GB SD card I had just inserted, not a single one.

There are many apps that the Doro phone will not move. That is just the way it is. We can’t help you.

But surely it should move some apps. I mean, Amazon is full of comments from people who have installed a 32GB SD card in a Doro phone and been delighted with the extra storage it afforded…

These are no doubt system apps, that the manufacturer will not allow you to move…

No, it’s all apps. Every single one. Even apps that have nothing to do with the system, that I have downloaded myself. And on Amazon people are saying…

I am afraid I cannot help you.  These are system apps and the manufacturer will not allow you to move…

But, um, what is the point of the phone having a slot to insert an SD card in, if no single item can be moved across onto a SD card?

The manufacturer will not allow you to move…

And so I rang off, having thanked her, with elaborate and formal politeness, for her time. Afterward I wondered why I felt I had to be polite to some foreign woman for not actually solving, or even really listening to, my problem and could only think that it was because she had been from Scandinavia, where ABBA came from.