The sprouting of damp souls

I have ordered a new smartphone; cheaper and, I sincerely hope, smarter than the Doro. The Doro wasn’t very smart at all. My sister is seven years younger than me and has a son with a degree in computing who designs apps for a living – at least, we believe that’s approximately what he does – and says the Doro has got to go. “It’s time,” she says. A smartphone deserves to be in a bin, she says, if it

  • turns itself off and on at random;
  • will no longer charge except within its own special little cradle;
  • refuses to open one of those little square boxes with patterns on that produce Amazon return labels, whilst its Owner is edging towards the front of the queue at the Post Office;
  • is perpetually loading but never actually starting a weather advice app that it’s owner didn’t want in the first place;
  • has space for only one app in addition to the Google and Doro bloatware that it came with and demands that you delete even that every time Google or Doro want to update any of the never-used bloat-stuff; and
  • becomes convinced, after every unscheduled hibernation, that the date is January 1st 1970 and can only become convinced that it is 2019 or thereabouts after five minutes of laborious scrolling. And then there is the time to reset from 01:00 hours –

Why would it even contain a calendar going back to 1970? Surely mobile phones – those huge house-brick things that go with the frizzy hair, the weird lipstick and the rainbow-coloured exercise outfits – didn’t appear till the ’80s?

I have also given up and turned on the central heating. It was getting kind of dank in here. The washing – which I’ve been draping from the doorframes to dry since the tumble-drier gave up the ghost – was not drying, at all, merely adding to the general air of Dickensian dampness. It’ll be the black spots next, I thought. And after that tiny mushrooms or maybe – toadstools – sprouting from the skirting-boards.

Which reminds me of a school poetry lesson many years ago, when a Jehovah’s Witness classmate objected to the souls in ‘Morning at the Window’ by T S Eliot. “There is no such thing as The Soul, sir!” she said, standing up behind her desk. Her desk was near mine, and I could see her trembling. “No such thing!”

After fruitless negotiations, along the lines of “Couldn’t we just assume the existence of The Soul, in the context of this particular poem – ?” she was led away by the left ear and deposited on the bench outside the headmistresses office.

Poor girl. How hard it is to speak up when we should, and how hard to stay silent.

Morning at the Window – T S Eliot 1888 – 1965

They are rattling breakfast plates in basement kitchens,
And along the trampled edges of the street
I am aware of the damp souls of housemaids
Sprouting despondently at area gates.

The brown waves of fog toss up to me
Twisted faces from the bottom of the street,
And tear from a passer-by with muddy skirts
An aimless smile that hovers in the air
And vanishes along the level of the roofs.

On eating cheese and breathing down rat-holes

My third (so far) 2016 diary is proving to be a gold mine for blog ideas. Should the cats decide to pee on this one too, I’m going to save it. Into the airing-cupboard it will go…

e-i-e-i-e-i-o oh, knees up Muvver Brown… sorry

… and although it will come out all yellow-stained, crinkled and fanned, those precious every-other-daily quotes will be preserved; a whole year’s worth of potential blog-post ideas – except not, because inevitably a few of them are duds.

The quote for Monday June 13th 2016 is from American actor W C Fields (1880-1946) – the one who was in that film with Mae West and memorably/cruelly said that he liked a child if ‘properly cooked’, and on another occasion that they were ‘very good with mustard’. But June 13th’s quote is about cats:

The clever cat eats cheese and breathes down rat holes with baited breath.

In real life cats are not that clever and rats are not that stupid, but the principle of eating cheese and breathing down rat-holes can be applied to almost anything in life. For instance:

If you’re desperate for the phone to ring, step into a nice, deep, lavender-scented bath; submerge, and reach for the second-hand paperback you have been looking forward to dipping into since it landed on the doormat this morning. I sometimes wonder if I ever had a phone call when not in the bath. How many times have I heaved myself out, dripping, squelched downstairs in a damp dressing-gown, only for it ring off on the sixth ring? As for answering a mobile phone in the bath – nearly all my mobile phones have died of drowning – in bedside mugs of water, in the washing-machine…

The best way to get a job – attend the interview hoping against hope that you won’t get it. An unemployed former boyfriend (I say boy, he was oldish even then) was once ordered by the Job Centre to attend an interview for work as a printer at a local firm. Up till then he had been a steam-train driver and couldn’t see himself in an office, but you can’t really refuse a job interview when unemployed: they tend to stop your benefits.

He really didn’t want the job, and he was nervous about the interview itself, so he popped in to the pub at lunchtime and rolled up at the interview feeling little pain, in a haze of exhaled beer. They liked him, of course, and he got the job. Twenty-five or so years later he was still there, one of their most senior and trusted employees, sitting it out till retirement and lacking the will to escape.

When I was still married, my husband used to spend nearly all day and most of the evening down the garden in his workshop. This was how we managed to stay married for 22 years, in fact. However, sometimes – if it was lunchtime, say, and he was still out there building clever man-things, I would get cross or lonely. We had a coal fire and I discovered the best way of getting him to come charging indoors was to reach out and put another lump of coal on the fire. He could tell by the colour and quality of the smoke exiting the chimney when I was wasting a lump of coal. Sometimes I only had to visualise that lump of coal and the reaching out, for him to come thundering up the stairs. We were psychically linked, I guess.

Fire-feeding was husband-territory and so was room-temperature; wives were never to touch the coal-scuttle and – having inferior feminine thermostatic arrangements – only ever imagined they were shivering. The lump of coal strategy worked but with a hefty price to pay in lecturing and altercation.

A typically British example of breathing down rat-holes is the gentle art of persuading buses to come along. British buses are hardly ever where or when you want them to be: as the saying goes, you don’t see a bus for an hour, then three come along at once. The art of persuading a bus to come along is to decide to walk home. No sooner do you get beyond running-back distance of the bus-stop you left, or running-to distance of the next bus stop, than the bus will come sailing along – and sail straight past you.

If you find yourself in a long queue in the Post Office, the best way to make it move quickly is to join the adjacent, shorter queue. This will instantly become the slowest because some old lady at the front will drop her purse or someone will decide to argue with the cashier about the price of Air Mail postage to Australia.

Best way to make a cat use the litter tray or throw up a heap of semi-digested cat-biscuits on the carpet right in front of you: fix yourself a cup of coffee and tasty sandwich; settle yourself down to watch Stargate Universe whilst eating it. Eat one mouthful…

An example from just now, even. Best way to make a BT Openreach (telephone network repair) van turn up – scheduled for anytime from 8 to 1. Start writing blog post, just get to the bit where ideas are zooming into your head from all directions but haven’t yet been safely typed… and there it is. However, my landline is fixed.

My landline finally is fixed. Never thought I’d see the day.