Stuff Cometh and Wenteth

The Iceman Cometh

Since the sixties I’ve been bothered by the title of a play by someone called Eugene O’Neill – The Iceman Cometh. Who was this blasted Iceman, and why was he cometh-ing? I could never quite be bothered to find out. In those days it was not that easy to just Find Out. You had to go to the library and order books and stuff, then wait three weeks. And in any case, I knew the answer would be dull.

And I was right. It’s some sort of 1939 American play about a group of hopeless drunks and dreamers awaiting the return of a salesman, a charismatic chap who is likely to “get the party started”. Eventually he does turn up – unlike Godot, who never turns up in spite of all the wordy Waiting actors have done for him over the years.

But who is the Iceman? The Iceman is apparently not the charismatic salesman. No, after exhaustive further Googling I can reveal that the Iceman is, on one level, a kind of joke. The Iceman is the man your wife is most likely being unfaithful with – he’s the American version of the Milkman. But on another level, the Iceman symbolises Death. Death cometh to all men, etc., etc.

Did you really want to know that? I’m not sure I did either, but it’s one of those things you just have to – cross off, finally, from a bucket list of lifelong minor annoyances.

The Mosquito Cometh

One of my current annoyances is Mervyn the Mosquito. He/she lives in my living room and materialises somewhere on my leg, ankle or foot whenever my attention is distracted. Try to swat him/her and he/she vanishes – poof – leaving behind a trail of little red bites, some of which metamorphose into blooming great swollen, infected and fiercely itchy areas necessitating visits to the doctor and yet more antibiotics. I have to be careful of stuff like this, nowadays. My immune system is not what it was.

The Fence Man Wenteth

So, one of my fence panels fell over in a strong wind. Yes, in August when there aren’t supposed to be any strong winds. It fell into my neighbours’ garden. It is their fault it fell because they viciously slashed away all the lovely shrubbery (on their side) that had successfully held my fence panel up for the last ten years or so. I went out in my dressing gown and dragged the broken panel through to my side. It disintegrated into a further two parts. I regarded the six foot empty space that represented My Privacy. They have been progressively invading My Privacy, the neighbours, since they arrived. And now I also had to pay, money I hadn’t got, to replace this lump of wood, since the boundary is mine.

I thought it would be easy enough, if not cheap. I would call a fencing firm and they would come, with splendid fence panel, and manoeuvre it into the hole. Many visits by men in shorts, big boots and dangly tool-belts later; many non-materialising emailed quotes and non-returned phone calls later, and I was disabused of this simplistic notion. Nobody, basically, could be bothered to replace my fence panel. It wasn’t a big enough job to warrant them coming “all the way out here”. Not worth the petrol. In any case, the concrete supporting posts had moved over the years so any panel, I was told, would have to be custom-made in situ, ie even more expensive.

Next Door were all away in Tenerife or Barbados or somewhere. Two whole families of them, plus screaming baby, plus mountains of luggage – all mercifully, if temporarily, gone. Before they came back I was going to have to come up with an alternative solution. In the end I ordered the fence panel from Amazon. It turned up in a lorry next day. It turned out that I would have to treat it with two coats of preservative stuff – even though it was advertised as ‘dipped’. I ordered a big plastic tub of the ‘stuff’ from Amazon, plus a paintbrush and a paint kettle (I do not decorate, so did not have them). The expense was mounting.

I spent some time out in the back garden in a pair of old leggings and the top half of a redundant nightie, slopping the stuff on. Then I phoned a local all-purpose gardening couple. They arrived – very large and scary in matching green tee-shirts – and within half an hour the panel was in place. All they had done was wrench the concrete fence posts apart and slide the panel down in.

Life is just full of these dull little dramas, isn’t it?

Gibbering Idiocy

I live my life in a state of perpetual, if thinly spread, fear, ie I tend to worry about virtually everything, a lot. Many a time I will wake in the middle of the night in abject terror over some future scenario that is almost certain to come to pass, and contemplating ever wilder and more impractical solutions. Unsurprisingly then, the other night, in raging summer temperatures, in the midst of a fierce thunderstorm I was suddenly jettisoned from a scary dream and into an equally scary wakefulness.

In the dream, brown, filthy water was cascading down from the ceiling of my house. This has actually happened to me twice before in this house, once thanks to incompetent plumbers and once because of a broken or malfunctioning something or other on or adjacent to the water tank. Sitting bolt upright in my dark and stuffy bedroom, I envisaged what would happen if – no when, for of course I am catastrophising – this occurred in the middle of the night.

The muppet neighbours with their trillions of friends and relatives and their million large vehicles would once again have parked a jeep/all terrain vehicle/Rolls Royce/army tank so as to obstruct my water-meter cover, which is out in the road. Either their big, fat, plebeian tyres would be right on top of the cover or their big, fat, plebeian car would be right over the cover.

If the former, I would be knocking on their door attempting to rouse them in the middle of the night. Their baby would wake up and scream, but naturally they wouldn’t: they seem immune to their own baby. (If only I was.)

If the latter I would be laid out full length among the puddles and weeds trying to reach under their vehicle to lever or heave up a metal cover which even brawny plumbers have had trouble with. Then I would be trying to wrench some sort of flooded underwater handle a quarter (or might it be half?) turn to the right (or could it be left?) in the hope that this would shut off the water.

I spent some time, bolt upright in the thunderstorm, hatching plans to prevent this scenario. I would, I decided, look on the internet for some sort of specialist traffic cone – preferably a blue and white one with Water Meter! Official! stamped all over it. I would sneak out there when, hopefully, the Muppets were not spying of me out of their front window, and place the cone over my water meter. Do not to park on it, Muppets. I then envisaged male Muppet coming round and lecturing me, terrifyingly, for – what? Something or other.

Either that or the (expensive) specialist traffic cone would simply disappear into Muppet Mordor – that heap of half-finished projects, wrecked garden, spare washing-machine drums, motorbikes, speedboats, dog poo and smouldering bonfires – never to be seen again.

Then I realised I could instead buy a small tin of luminous bright blue metal paint and sneak out there when they were not looking and paint my water meter cover blue. This would take longer to accomplish than the placing of the cone, the risk being that someone, or several someones, would emerge and ask me what I was up to – and laugh – but would have the advantage that they could not steal luminous blue paint, once applied.

By this time it was daylight, and plan C dawned. I could call a plumber and ask him to fit some sort of water-supply-cutting-off-thing inside my house! Then, if filthy brown water were to come gushing through my ceiling in the middle of the night, I wouldn’t have to throw myself upon the Muppets’ mercy at all – Muppets circumvented – I could just toddle down to my kitchen and turn it off.

The plumbers came this morning. It took them about ten minutes to fit a snazzy little handle under the sink and they charged me an awful lot of money – twice as much, apparently, because it is a Saturday. They didn’t mention that when I phoned them, or I would have waited till Monday.

Saturday… again!

I was thinking it might be time for another of those rambling roundups of random events. Why not?

I was trying to make an inventory of all the things I have done today, but find that most of it I have forgotten. Or have I? Leaving out things like washing up, drying up, watching five minutes of Phil and Kirstie not managing to find a house in the Cotswolds to suit someone with shedloads of money; hearing yet another analysis of President You-Know- Who’s scant chances of denuclearise Kim Jong Un whilst simultaneously prompting Iran to reunclearise when it hadn’t been (nuclearising) for quite a while…

Among other things I have:

  • Done three lots of washing and two lots of tumble drying. Because it’s Saturday and because it’s grey and spitty outside.
  • Removed cat from ironing basket and folded said tumble-dried washing in the hope of ironing it sometime.
  • Stuffed three knitted Captain Cat-Battler mice with British Standard something-or-other stuffing and a catnip sachet. (Fought off drooling own moggies.)
  • Cut out a stack of dull squares for patchwork money-making enterprise.
  • Put three more items up on eBay. There are only so many ways to photograph an electric hot-plate with a mobile phone and make it look attractive.
  • Eaten four Activia yoghurts. Will probably have diarrhoea tomorrow, but who cares.

Tonight, the Eurovision Song Contest. We will of course come bottom, or maybe thirty-second. We have the most successful pop music industry in Europe and nobody votes for us. Although perhaps they might vote for us a bit more this year, out of sympathy for the Russians practising their extermination techniques in one of our remoter cities.

Noticed that my neighbour has demolished his decking this morning and stacked all the wet wood at the end of what was once but is no longer a rather nicely kept garden. Now he just has the framework. The jury is still out as to whether this might be a Good Thing or a Bad Thing. Most things to do with my neighbours are Bad, like the black fridge-freezer they fly-tipped in the road outside their own house four weeks ago, thus making it semi-impassable for everyone. I was just celebrating the arrival of the Special Bin Men yesterday to remove it (thank you, bin men, even if it did take a nail-biting three-quarters of an hour for you to find room for it in your special fly-tip-collecting truck). I was just celebrating and today… he demolishes the decking. In the rain.

It depends, really. It is a Temporary Good Thing because all the while there is just a framework of wooden struts out there, with pretty dangerous gaps, they are not likely to be holding any of their loud drinking, smoking, swearing and guffawing parties beneath/around their ugly garden umbrella and chair set, and staring drunkenly down into my kitchen.

It might turn out to be a Bad Thing a) if he damages my fence panels, not knowing or caring that they are my fence panels and not his fence panels (I would guess Land Registry Plans and T-marks are probably beyond him) and I can’t afford to replace them. Neither do I stand any chance of persuading him to replace them, if he damages them. Or b) if he has plans to replace the old decking with even higher new decking, meaning they will probably be able to spy on me down the chimney as well. Maybe from Outer Space. Oh no, that’ll be when they get the drone.

I hate neighbours. Well, not all neighbours, just the ones who trash their gardens, play mega-loud music at all hours and dump black fridges out in the road.

Good News, possibly. My Stalker has been read the riot act via some secret aspect of Facebook, apparently. I don’t really understand (or care) how Facebook works. He has promised, apparently, via the Dark Side, that he will not attempt to contact me again by any means. He has apologised, apparently. But my friend says not to get too hopeful that I have seen the last of him. She predicts his next move will be to write a long letter of apology, inviting me to reply, or possibly stop by his house to discuss the situation in more detail, which as far as he is concerned will not count as “contacting”.

This is entirely possible. I mean when, out of desperation you are forced to resort to Plain English and text someone “Do not write, do not send photos, do not text and do not come to my house” – and the next day you receive a five page email referring to “your curt text”, the email being headed “Not a letter, not a photo, not a text…” anything is possible. You block his email address, of course… but is he likely to stop?

He has been told that I will go to the police if he doesn’t, but I currently have as much faith in them as I do in him, or the neighbour’s competence to demolish his decking without seriously damaging something.

Yesterday (whizz – it’s now yesterday!) above friend and I drove down to the next village for a coffee and to exchange information about this and that. We ended up in one the amusement arcade cafés drinking indifferent coffee from white china mugs and not able to hear ourselves speak over the noise of all the whizzing and whirring machines and rides. There were no customers, except us, just the Noise. Early Season, late afternoon I suppose. And I thought, how strange this is, how All Things Come Round In The End. I have always despised and feared amusement arcades and here I am, hardly noticing that I am sat in one. All that working-class seaside stuff. Kiss Me Quick hats, candy-floss, tattoos… We bought a couple of pink and white ice creams to finish off and pottered down to look at would have been the sea, if it hadn’t been so far out as to be practically invisible.

I suppose that mud is treacherous?

Only in some places.

There is a dog on the beach. There are not supposed to be dogs between May and October or whatever. We decide the owner must be classifying his dog as a Small Horse or maybe a Dog-Like Ferret.

For a second or two, in the late afternoon sunshine, with the ice-cream melting, the sea gone out, green weed on the rocks, the amusement arcade still clearly audible, it felt like being on holiday. I almost felt, if I had a brightly-coloured plastic bucket-and-spade I might build a sandcastle. If there had been sand and not mud. It seems strange to live in a place that feels so unlike being on holiday most of the time. People pay good money to stay here while residents would pay good money not to have to.

kiss me quick

Unexpected Rainbows

Sometimes life throws you an unexpected bonus or – if things have really been bad –  a consolation. For example, the other day I had to wait an hour at the hospital for a blood test, and the buses home only go once an hour. I sat with my torn-off paper ticket (number 106 in a queue starting at 85) and I sat, and I sat, and finally I got behind that blue curtain to get my blood test, one minute after the bus was due to have left. I trudged to the hospital bus stop and found nobody waiting. Yes, my bus had definitely gone. And then there it was, like magic, my precious bus coming round the corner, two minutes late. Did you just do me a good turn? I asked the universe.

And today I have rainbows. I put some sheeting stuff up at the kitchen windows – it’s clear, textured plastic, held up by nothing more than warm water and washing up liquid, plus suction. The reviews on Amazon did mention rainbows but I hadn’t seen any. Ah well, I thought, I am now invisible to the neighbours and vice versa, and that’s all that matters. Privacy is restored.

I have this thing, you see, about eyes. It feels as if I am caught in the headlights when someone stares at me, and particularly if they persistently stare at me. I read somewhere that in the 17th century and earlier, people did not yet understand about light and vision (I believe it was Newton who eventually sorted it out) and actually believed that people ‘saw’ by sending out an invisible beam from their eyes. In other words, their eyes were sending out light rather than receiving it. John Donne uses this to good effect in his erotic poem The Ecstasy:

Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread / Our eyes upon one double string…

Anyway, although I am a Thoroughly Modern Post-Newtonian Person and know that nobody is actually fixing me with their X-ray eye-beams, that’s what it feels like. In some sort of psychic or psychological way, it hurts. And similarly, if I am forced to stare at someone or even see them when I don’t want to, it hurts. Without intending to they are invading me, and the space around me, just by being in my line of sight.

So, given this weirdness, which seems to be  one of two absolutely fundamental and incurable issues with me – boundaries and visibility – I more-or-less solved the problem by buying two rolls of the plastic stuff on Amazon. And today, finally, the sun shone brightly enough through my kitchen window to create those promised rainbows.

Sorry it’s cats again – and sorry for apologising since I know from previous feedback that this is British of me – but sorry, anyway – but cats is what I have a lot of and cats are what I spend most of my day either feeding, tripping over or being sat-upon by. I just saw these rainbows on the cats – and on the floor – and decided I must try to capture them – for posterity – for this electronic treasure trove of ours – and for – not having to wash up a whole sink load of cat dishes for at least another five minutes. So much more fun to tiddle about with photographs.

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Plastic rainbows on my grubby kitchen floor (hence the vignette filter causing a convenient Darkness on the Edge of… um, the floor tile)

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Henry in his basket, bedecked with rainbows. Suspect he cannot see them, as I read somewhere that cats can only see in shades of blue and lilac. This seems like a terrible disability, if it’s true, but it doesn’t seem to stop them catching mice.

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 Henry – more rainbows.

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Martha -no rainbows, because being a tortoiseshell (calico) she carries one around with her.

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Rosie – no rainbows, just because I love her, and she’s getting on a bit now. Rosie was rescued from a road in Norfolk as a tiny, sick, dehydrated kitten and brought to me on a hot summer’s day, in a cardboard box with no proper air-holes, all the way round the M25 and beyond. She is the inspiration behind my blogging name: Rosie2009 and the reason for much subsequent confusion.

White plastic popper-beads and a red hat

I have noticed that my posts become increasingly like the white plastic popper bead necklace I had when I was a child, and which broke all over the floor during a game of spin-the-collection-plate at the Sunday School Christmas Party because some stupid boy (probably Peter Stelmazuk) yanked on them to see how they were held together. I get one thought, and that leads on to another, and that another and occasionally if I’m lucky the end thought joins back up to the first one.

I used to know a woman who spoke like I write. Unfortunately she lived opposite me on the new estate that Ex referred to scathingly as Brookside. She was one of those women who having discovered you stuck to you like a veritable limpet and wouldn’t stop talking. I used to get invited over to their house, which was hugely much bigger than mine, with a conservatory, a lovely (if bijou) garden with a water-feature, and those massive, expensive armchairs with electric controls that lift the back, the seat, the arms, the footrest and whatever other moving parts it has up and down so as to ensure your absolute comfort whilst consuming white wine or nibbling on canapés of an evening.

Her husband used to go upstairs to his study as soon as I arrived, either to construct model aeroplanes or to further his bid to become a local councillor so as to have speed bumps inserted into Brookside’s smooth new speed-bumpless circular road, which the local hooligans used as a racetrack, using the car park of the equally new and monstrously big Tesco store as their starting point. He was exhausted being married to this woman and, after only twenty minutes in her company, I was exhausted too. Unfortunately, I never got away with less than a whole evening.

She would talk non-stop, seamlessly segueing from one irrelevancy to another, whilst I tried desperately to keep all the threads together and understand the connection between them. I would watch her mouth moving and moving and moving, fascinated and horrified, wondering when – and how she was ever going to get to the point. Her conversation was like one of those fractal leaves, you know? Endlessly branching, branching and branching. And the thing was, you couldn’t tune out and daydream because every now and then she would stop and ask a question, but never about the branch of the fractal she was currently on, always about something several branches back. I couldn’t abide her, but abide her I did for several years. I felt sorry for her because she had no friends. I knew what it was like to be impossible and unlikeable and not understand why. I suspected she and I had an uncomfortable something in common, but at that time I didn’t know what.

She used to take me shopping in Canterbury. She would drag me round one department store after another, looking for a red hat or similar must-have object. She would never buy anything. In each store, instead of looking for the must-have object she would approach the first sales assistant she spotted on the ground floor and demand to know where the red hats were. She would fail to memorise the instructions and ask the poor woman – who was actually selling make up or perfume rather than hats – for it all to be repeated. Then she would drag me up and down escalators in search of red hats, because of course despite the repetitions of detailed instructions she had instantly forgotten where the red hats were.

Then we found the red hats, and one particular red hat she really loved. Then we would leave the shop in search of a cash machine because she had not got any cash out before going shopping. This would take some time. Then neither of us would be able to remember where the particular red hat was, so would spend the rest of the morning trying to relocate it. Then she would disappear into changing rooms and leave me standing in the middle of the store. Hours later, still standing there, I would wonder if she had simply gone home. I would ask shop assistants if they had happened to see her. None of them ever had.

I moved house but she came to visit me, turning up in her husband’s bright yellow sports car and skewing it across two of my new neighbours’ parking spaces. She was not a good driver though it was a good car. The best air-conditioning I had ever experienced, and it smelt of new leather and great expense. She also phoned, at great length. I had ‘caller display’ put on and took to not answering it when her number showed up. I felt bad about that.

Now, I remember where this was going. Sooner or later we will get on to the Youth Club, the out-of-tune piano and a single battered copy of The Midwich Cuckoos. And somewhere in the mix will be a queasy, beatific portrait of Jesus surrounded by unlikely children of all races, suffering them to come to him. And then there will be my newly-found Certificate of Baptism and my dear Godmother who is not, in fact, my godmother at all as it transpires.

I think it will have to be another post.

Maybe even two.

poppers

He was only expecting a manicure

Could forgetfulness be some kind of germ – catching, transmittable, etc? I only ask because… because….

Well, as you know my mother’s got dementia. I’m not at all sure she knows who I am now – if she looks up at all when I go in, it is with a vague sort of puzzlement. I might be anybody, from cleaner to carer to relative to friend. The important thing is, can I reach her water jug? Can I untangle her sheets?

And of course, you start to check yourself – daily, hourly, by the minute. Why didn’t that fact spring to mind? Why was there that slight hesitation over someone’s name? Have I just done something peculiar? Would I know if I had?

The other night the new lady came round from next door. She introduced herself. After she’d gone I went straight through to the kitchen, scribbled “Claire” on a slip of paper and taped it to the fridge. Gotcha!

Next night she came round again. We were talking about a workman who might be needed to do a repair on her house. “He does know you want to see him,” I assured her. “I told him that your name was Claire.”

“Ros,” she said.

At least it’s not just me. Yesterday one of my elderly neighbours very kindly offered to help me with my many cats if ever the need arose. “I’ve written my number on a piece of paper,” she said. “You have only to call me and I’ll come straight over.”

“That’s so kind of you,” I said, “but aren’t you allergic to cats?”

“No,” she said. “I love little moggies.”

Now a few years back she told me she couldn’t take in a particularly muddy, flea-ridden and unneutered stray kitten herself, though she would have loved to, since she was allergic. Started sneezing and coughing almost straight away, she did. (That’s how I got George.) Several times she’s come to the door and I’ve invited her in and she’s dithered in terror on my doorstep. “Oh no, I couldn’t. I’m allergic, you see. Start sneezing and coughing almost straight away…”

Has she forgotten the allergy or the fib? Or could I over the years somehow have fabricated an entire narrative, in several successive parts, about my neighbour and her allergy to cats? Either way, I’ve got to think of a way for her to feel useful and wanted now that she no longer has her disabled sister to care for – which I suspect is what she really needs – without letting her loose on my rambunctious and precious moggies, at least in any unsupervised capacity.

And finally, as they say on the News. Late this afternoon I telephoned the vet’s receptionist . “Could I make an appointment for Rufus to come in and have his claws clipped by the nurse?”

“Certainly,” she said. We discussed possible dates as she leafed through the diary. In the background I could hear somebody muttering “Anal glands, anal glands.”

That’s odd, I thought. Maybe there’s someone standing behind her, trying to remind her of the urgent anal glands of some other furry client.

“Yes,” she said, “Rufus can come in for his anal glands on Saturday morning.”

“Um, where are you getting anal glands from? Poor little chap, he was only expecting a manicure…

“Not anal glands?”

No, really, just his claws.”

“Oh dear! Where did I get anal glands from?”

Who knows? How did Ros metamorphose into Claire between the front door and the refrigerator? And where did my neighbour’s allergy disappear to?

It’s a mystery.

Pleasurable Dread

The Prison Warders are moving to their villa/caravan in France by instalments. Sometime in the last three days they must have whispered off to the continent yet again in their current version of the Black Mariah. I no longer hear their chocolate-coloured labradoodle barking on the patio, or the squeak of her squeaky toy, or the sound of their toilet flushing behind the party wall at midnight and the chink of one of them throwing their toothbrush back into the glass. I quite miss them, though not their heavy metal music radio session from 11 to 2 every day.

And so – I can mosey down the garden in my dressing-gown to feed the birds as soon as it gets light with no need to fear the Prison Warders’ prying eyes. Of course there are other prying eyes but then I also have my imaginary Cloak of Invisibility and my old person’s Don’t Much Care Any More. It’s not that I’m lazy about getting dressed, it’s just that things happen in the wrong order. I get up in the dark and cold, more or less wrestled out of bed by innumerable hungry cats, and I mean to get dressed but then I find myself feeding them, washing up, watching (with daily increasing horror) the morning News, drinking instant coffee, sending back WordsWithFriends… and at 10 the dressing-gown may still be on.

Today is a day Carol the Weather Lady has been going on about since last Sunday. Yes, it’s Very Cold Thursday. The winds have changed and we may expect to be drawing in icy blue air from the continent, which is ravaged with cold, and that icy air, coupled with the Wind Chill Factor, will mean it feels like minus something-or-other.

I made my plans accordingly. I would not venture out on Very Cold Thursday. I would stay in and do – all my usual stuff. Pleasurable Dread. The British weather – it’s an ongoing horror show; either plummeting temperatures bound to kill off all the old folk and those with weak chests, and harmless infants in their cribs – or unbearably soaring temperatures meaning we will all be forced to open windows, paddle around in an embarrassed-but-desperate sort of way in municipal fountains or lie prostrate in parks praying for the rain to return.

But I have to feed the birds. My instinct to care for harmless sparrows, pheasants, cats, hedgehogs, worms and even rats by far exceeds any fleeting concern I may have for my fellow mutant apes. So, in a concession to Very Cold Thursday I put a coat on over my dressing gown and trudge up and down the garden several times (not enough hands) bearing jugs of seed and water and plates of anything I can find for the birdies, including those ghastly mealworms. Yes, it is cold but I am surprised to find I am not dying of it, even in my dressing gown and carpet slippers. A winter without central heating must have toughened me up.

Overnight Kitten, who is around 105 in human years, has finally given in and moved herself back to the heater; in fact her ancient, gnarled little legs are jammed right under the heater. She has the whole of the spare room to herself since she refuses either to leave it or allow any other cat in. She has her own heater, food station and dirt-box, and a choice several beds. She exists in magnificent isolation but still she isn’t happy. Pleasurable Dread – I go in to see her every morning, steeling myself for the worst, that stiff little furry corpse in the corner – and always she is still alive and squawking, staggering out of her basket and falling over several times on her way to see me, demanding her sachet of Felix.

Pleasurable Dread: every evening now I watch a news magazine programme called 100 Days. Two correspondents anchor the programme jointly, one in Washington and one in London. How do they achieve this? Who knows? Something to do with satellites. Anyway, 100 Days is following the new President’s critical first one hundred days in office, plus Brexit and the whole fiasco around triggering Article 50 and actually getting on with leaving. I wish I could not-watch it but I seem to be addicted. I have even foregone an ancient re-run of Stargate Atlantis on Pick in order to do so. And with every day that I watch 100 Days, as one lot of rampant sociopathic insanity (on the American side) and legal obfuscation, havering, incompetence and delay (on the British side) crowds in upon another, Pleasurable Dread edges closer towards Horror.

I am afraid. I am very afraid.

Life Apparently Is All Ha Ha Hee Hee

Some while back I wrote about my neighbour’s threatened Big 6 – 0 birthday party, and how yet more rustic Hobbit signs had appeared in her garden to accompany the map of The Shire on the back end of her garage. NB: I spotted another one this afternoon – it’s half way down the left boundary fence and reads Half-Blood Headquarters or some such. Thanks to Artistic Daughter the whole garden has recently become appalling mixture of Hobbit and Harry Potter, with a preponderance of Hobbit. I would guess this is something to do with number 12 Grimmauld Place, home of the wizarding House of Black, later taken over by…

Which now seems to have disappeared from London to rematerialize half way down my neighbour’s fence.

The party itself, which at least one of my readers urged me to please attend in order to report back on it, has been happening at last, but now seems to be over. It was something of a damp squib. I didn’t get to go since her earlier invitation was not repeated (I locked myself in at lunchtime as a precaution) however I saw the guest arriving and heard the rest of it.

Around lunchtime, the usual signifiers of a party hereabouts – unfamiliar cars abandoned all over the road including one right outside my house, taking up half of my parking space and half of the Prison Warders’ parking space, though the Prison Warders are in France at the moment, or at least rumoured to be, so it won’t bother them.

Out of the abandoned vehicle came a whole lot of really elderly folks, some with Zimmer frames, some supported by relatives. I am guessing that one of them must have been Frail Old Uncle From Far Away, of whom I have heard tell.

And then more cars and more people.

And then somebody (Splendidly Bewhiskered Son, I think) on a shiny motorbike which he parked on her drive opposite my front door where it sat making made unsettling scarlet patterns through the frosted glass panel.

And then, believe it or not, a removal lorry bringing what looked like the new occupants of Down The End Next To The Field. They wended their way in forwards, sat in the cab for a while outside their new abode, possibly bewildered or just thinking it was too wet to start moving furniture today, reversed back and vanished. No doubt they will to try again tomorrow when everybody’s trying to get a lie-in.

After that the music started up down the bottom of Neighbour’s garden. A bit tinny, much of it blown away by the wind – I forgot to mention the black clouds, semi-gale and intermittent gusts of rain – but recognisably Seventies, Bruce Springsteen in fact; and all the oldies were singing along. This depressed me because a) I used to sing along to Bruce Springsteen too, until I stopped myself and b) on a recent visit to the Home where Mum now lives, one of the carers advised me that they periodically update the background music to recall the youth of the current intake. They were only up to the late Fifties. I imagine myself, being wheeled into a Home and being greeted by a tinny and long-forgotten Springsteen, or perhaps some James Taylor.

I couldn’t use my spy window because they were all sitting directly underneath it, under the patio trellis-thing, despite the rain. I wondered if she had made a big bowl of Ribena punch and left it on the kitchen table with stacks of plastic cups. Whatever it was, they became very jolly very quickly. In fact they laughed louder and louder every time a new gust blew in to chill and soak them still further.

And there she was, right on cue. There’s always one at every party, the woman who laughs like a drain.

Har-har-HAR!! Har-har-HAR!!

Every time she did it she triggered a soft storm of giggles all around her.

And then more tinkling laughs, and hysterical Artistic Daughterly shrieks mingled with elderly/ motor-bike riding masculine Ho-hos.

And so on for hours.

I couldn’t concentrate on the television, couldn’t concentrate to read a book. Incessant Har-hars and Tee-hees were driving me mad. Finally I retreated to bed, though it was still early. I lay there fully dressed under the duvet watching the sky turn from afternoon storm-grey to star-strewn night navy. Little Arf came and claimed his precarious night perch between myself and the edge of the bed. The Gingery Gentleman continued to snore on my right. He smells of peppery dust, always, as if he has just arisen from the tomb. One of the fluffy ones mountaineered onto my chest to impede my breathing. And all the time with the Har-har-HAR and the Hee-hee-HEE next door.

I drifted off for a while, dreaming of spaceships and solicitors’ offices. When I awoke they had gone, and there was still time to go down and watch The Papers. And Neighbour’s 6 – 0 at last, which means she cannot possibly be 6 – 0 ever again.

(Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee: a novel by Meera Syal, 1999)

The Big 6 – 0 comes to Drippin’ Dell

So I looked out of my side window, the one at the top of the stairs and the only one that allows me a glimpse into my neighbour’s garden. She’s the one with supersize Polish dog that looks like the Hound of the Baskervilles, but is actually quite a pussycat. Her name is Ajska. The dog, that is. I tend register the animals’ names and forget the humans.

It’s been raining – hasn’t rained for months. Everything is wearing a necklace of unfallen raindrops.

I never mean to spy but it gets a bit lonely inside this plain brick box with the twelve delinquent cats. Occasionally it’s tempting to look out – or in this case down – to see if anything at all is going on. Usually it isn’t. What you see most of round here are ambulances, white vans and sparrows. Humans are a bonus.

And when I looked down out of my side window I noted with that at least one more sign had appeared overnight. Rustic signs – oval slices of strange-shaped tree, wobbly-hand-lettered. This latest one said:

No Admittance Except On Party Business

My first thought was that Neighbour must have been one of those Corbynistas all along and was now preparing to host the annual Corbyn Party Conference in her front room/kitchen-diner. Oh my God, I thought, they’ll be singing the Red Flag with their hands clenched passionately to their breasts, or coming round collecting funds in a king-size bucket like the Firemen at Christmas.

My second thought was, no, this is something to do with the Artistic Daughter and – perish the thought – the Big 6 – 0 must have come round at last. She mentioned some months back that she was approaching (coy smile) a Big Birthday. She’s too faded for the Big 5 – 0 but not crumpled enough for the Big 7 – 0 so it wasn’t hard to guess.

She also mentioned that she would be having a birthday party – whenever it was – I didn’t catch the date – and I was welcome to come to it. She was saying that, of course, because the party was likely to be drunken and noisy and you have to invite your neighbours to neutralise them. She would have known perfectly well from last New Year’s Eve when I was forced to sit in her front room with only three other people and a mountain of food and make very, very small talk for hours – I believe at one point I was feigning interest in the correct technique for loading and tarping-up a lorry – that in me she had found the polar opposite of the Life and Soul of the Party.

Of course, I said what you always say in these circumstances. Oh… that would be nice. Yeees… maybe… probably… see how it goes… Since then I have been hoping that the birthday party would either be forgotten or might take place during one of my rare absences. Obviously not.

She did tell me about her Artistic Daughter’s cute design for the garden. Artistic Daughter had been away in Australia with her boyfriend for six months; they were now back with Mum for a while, at a post-colonial loose end. So they set to and did all sorts of stuff to the garden. There was a lot of sawing, smoking, laughing, music, swearing and whatever.

Apparently there is a now map of Mordor – or was it The Shire? – painted on the back end of the garage, in fact I can see the top edge of it over those bright new fence panels. (Where’s all the money coming from, for fence panels and serial DIY?) Apparently there are rabbits, runes, riddles and mystic messages everywhere. It all sounds perfectly dreadful.

And worse, an inaccuracy has arisen. An anomaly. It’s just unbearable.

From my spy-window I can just about see a rustic signpost with cutesy little hobbit signs pointing in all directions. One of them, of course, says The Shire, but another – and this is what really gets my goat – another says Diagon Alley. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Diagon Alley…

No prophecy at all, just sadness

Yesterday I watched David Cameron outside 10 Downing Street, being calm and dignified in the face of overwhelming political defeat. This was something my generation grew up with and took as read – that an Englishman would be generous in victory and gracious in defeat. That was ‘only cricket’. I can’t say I’m a fan of Westminster, politicians, the establishment or the political élite but he managed that particularly sad situation just as you – or we, in earlier times – might have expected an Englishman to do.

So whatever happened to the rest of us?

Last night I watched a young, white woman drown out an elderly academic during what was supposed to be an interesting political discussion on the results of the Referendum. He was an old, white man, she shouted, and that was why he felt entitled to talk over her and steal her air time. I suppose technically she won since she got all this in before the interviewer could moderate her. Yes, she succeeded in being sexist, ageist, racist and cruel in a single sentence and stunned the elderly academic into silence. He had been trying to say that in a democracy we each have one vote. Where did this sense of entitlement come from? Did she think maybe that people under forty should have two votes, and those over forty none?

This morning I went out in the car for a while. When I came back my neighbour was out in the front garden. He and his wife are retired prison warders and since retiring they have been spending more and more time at the house they are building in France: they had returned just in time to vote.

They and I have history. When I first moved to this area I was told – by another neighbour – a horrible story about the male prison warder. It may or may not have been true, but at the time I believed it. There was so much ghastly detail attached; how could I not give it credence? I was told that he killed one of a neighbour’s cats with an air rifle, because he didn’t like cats and it came into his garden. I was told he got rid of the creature’s body in the Council’s green bin and then laughed about it, boasting of what he had done.

Anything to do with animal cruelty horrifies me. I can’t abide it. Until then my cats had roamed freely out of doors: that ended that night. At ten o’clock at night, with a torch, I rounded up my whole feline tribe and have never dared let them go outside since. If one of them does escape, as of course happens at intervals, I spend the many hours it takes to find them and persuade them to come back indoors in a torment of anxiety, imagining that at any moment they might get shot from a bedroom window.

And yet, over the years, though I wouldn’t say we’ve got to know each other any better, we have come to an unspoken agreement. I still don’t know if the cat-murder story is true, and probably never will know, but we talk to each other now, in passing. He asked if he could come into my garden to prune his roses from the other side of the fence. When, during a gale some time back, his roof sent a ridge tile crashing through my car windscreen, he and his wife knocked on the door, came in and paid me, unasked, for the inconvenience this had caused.

This morning we chatted about his impending move to France, and mine to the far side of the county. During the talk it became clear to me that we had voted in opposite directions in the Referendum. I carefully adjusted anything I might have said. He carefully avoided saying anything that might require me to confirm which way I had voted. We talked generally about immigration and about people’s motives for voting Leave or voting Remain in this neighbourhood. We talked about the endless legal delays and complications involved in moving house. I told him I was dreading mowing my lawn, which had grown so long recently the mower was unlikely cope with it. He laughed and said he had had to take the strimmer to his, having been away in France so long. We talked but we kept it general; we steered the conversation onto safer ground.

neighbours 3

That’s what British people do – or what they used to do. We avoid confrontation.  Along with the Japanese – another overcrowded island race – and, I gather, the indigenous peoples of Australia – we practice something called negative politeness.

There are things both parties to a conversation know, but avoid putting into words. We avoid asking the other person any question that might conceivably embarrass them – even if it wouldn’t, and they are in fact just dying to tell us what we are just dying to find out.

We proceed on the assumption that the speaker is imposing on the listener, and that this imposition should be prefaced by elaborate apologies. We go to great lengths to avoid putting the other person in an awkward position.

We tread delicately, gently alluding rather than baldly stating, mentioning the unlikely possibility of rather than directly asking for. Occasionally we become so veiled in our allusions that we give bewildered visitors the impression that we are talking in code, which of course we are, in a way.

As a nation we have many faults but we used at least to be kind – courteous to one another and to strangers, anxious above all not to give offence. What changed, I wonder, and when?

neighbours 2

prophecy

Sorry to bother you, but…

So, which neighbour shall I tell you about?

Shall I tell you about the lady with the hooded anorak, the stout walking stick and the Illegal (and very rude) Scotsman? Shall I tell you about the teacher with the weak heart – the one who recently rescued a Polish lady-dog almost the same size as herself, which can be seen taking her walks at intervals, clinging breathlessly to its lead? Shall I tell you about the Man At The End, who’s on morphine for the pain – I’m not sure what pain – and stays up all night at his computer, unable to sleep? Shall I tell you about the fairy lights draped round his living room, and the moving pictures of waterfalls, the lava lamps, the thick fug of cigarettes? Shall I tell you about the elderly lady who, year after year, tottered back and forth along our unmade road to care for her badly disabled sister, who lived a few doors down? Her sister recently died. Inevitably, two of the three cats were donated to me: Charlie got the other one. Since then she has hardly been seen: it’s as if she lives a wholly interior life. Shall I tell you about the retired prison warders – a he and a she, as far as it’s possible to tell? No, I don’t think I shall. I will tell you about Charlie.

Charlie is younger than me, I think. Difficult to tell – he’s kind of saggy, and always wearing overalls. Charlie is the other cat-person in this little road. I try not to feel sorry for his cats, but it’s difficult. Inside his house it’s  just a blizzard of filth, and junk, and half-eaten food, and cat poo, and… sofas – an awful lot of sofas. He turned up at my door one day last summer with his usual Sorry to bother you, but… and asked if I would come over and hold one of his cats while he trimmed its claws. He couldn’t get anyone else to do it. In old pink shorts and a washed out tee-shirt I didn’t feel dressed for public appearances, but I went anyway.

I managed to clear a posterior-sized space on the greasy arm of one of the sofas and lowered myself onto it. The cat, dropped into my arms never having encountered me before, was terrified. Charlie went ahead with the claw-cutting using what looked like a pair of kitchen scissors rather than the proper gadget. I tried to imagine myself somewhere else. I tried to imagine that, like my younger sister, I had been born without a sense of smell. I tried to imagine that the terrified cat was not urinating warmly down the front of my shorts. And then urinating again, not quite so warmly. Squelching across the road, to throw all my clothes in the washing machine and myself in the shower, I was praying that none of the other neighbours happened to be looking out of their windows at this precise moment.

But usually the Sorry to bother you, but… means Big Fluffy has gone missing again. She always comes back – or always has done so far – but Charlie – who’s a bit simple –  worries just as much on each occasion. His forehead creased with worry, wringing his hands, he once again describes Big Fluffy in minute detail and reminds you she was a present from his ex-wife on his fortieth birthday. He doesn’t tell you that Big Fluffy is sticky-to-the-touch from the filth inside his house. Ex-wife moved in the man next door some years ago but still talks to Charlie over the fence.

Usually it’s after dark, when he realises Big Fluffy is missing, and everyone up and down the road becomes involved in paddling round their muddy gardens with torches, and peering into unlit garages hoping Big Fluffy will leap out and peaceful TV-watching can be resumed.

But when Big Fluffy turns up, as she always does after and hour or two, it never occurs to Charlie to tell anyone. So there you are, still squelching around the garden, barking your shins on the hedgehog hut or getting bashed by the bird-feeders, and Charlie is home, rejoicing, Big Fluffy perched stickily on his knee. Days later, everyone else is still imagining Big Fluffy howling in a ditch, her hind paw tangled in rusty wire; Big Fluffy kidnapped by gypsies, skinned by now and turned into fluffy slippers; Big Fluffy somehow surviving on condensation trickling down some spidery garage wall, her voice cracked from crying…

Do you have to be so nice to me?

I think I may have mentioned that I’ve decided to move house this year. I have moved house solo several times before and, although I found it stressful, part of me really enjoyed it. I get bored, you see. I have this capacity – what would you call it? – to plan, in detail. I used to enjoy making lists and flow-diagrams, getting the calculator out, fitting the whole horrendous procedure together like a jigsaw. I suppose it’s the flipside of being a worrier.

But this time is different. This time I have to move, and it will probably be to a smaller house. Downsizing is never easy, is it? You get used to having three bedrooms and then there’s the prospect of two – or one – and maybe not in the area you would have chosen, and maybe… Now I’m older, and that does make a difference. You wonder where the energy went, for all that extra housework, for all the smiles and the greetings and the bulging legal packs that have to be gone through, and the twenty-page questionnaires you have to fill in concerning boundaries, cavity wall insulation, and the  boiler. Do I really want the hassle of that again? One day at a time.

One day at a time is what I tell my sister on the phone, as my brother-in-law struggles with cancer. One day at a time is what I tell myself, when my mother refuses to use her commode or offers her carer soap-powder tablets as if they are chocolates. One day at a time is excellent advice in approaching any trying situation. But easier said than done. Too many other things going on, that’s the problem.

And then there’s the cats. Last time there were five, I think. I fitted the two oldest and sickest ones into my little car and booked the others in a cattery overnight. Now there are thirteen. One of the things I have to do is some discreet cat-box-juggling. I say discreet because the neighbours here – although rarely to be glimpsed – glimpse everything. They probably already know my intentions, since a pair of estate agents turned up yesterday. The man had the tell-tale clipboard – ie estate agent of Jehovah’s Witness – and the girl had a snazzy black suit (not so snazzy by the time she had sat on my sofa for half an hour and picked up a film of cat-fur) and the highest-heeled patent-leather shoes I have ever seen. “So you’ll not be wanting to look round the garden?” I heard myself enquiring. It’s just a mass of squelchy grass this time of year. She’d have sunk without trace.

The cat-box juggling – well, I’ve got a garage full of pet-carriers in various sizes. Some are big enough for Alsatian dogs, others so bijou I don’t feel happy confining one of my Beloveds to them, except in an emergency. Moving day may well be such an emergency. I think, with a bit of juggling, I can fit six pet-carriers into the car, with the back seats down. But I need to practice, and as soon as I start practicing one of the normally-invisible neighbours is almost bound to appear, delicately skirting rubble-filled potholes and muddy puddles, off on some sudden and mysterious ‘walk’. Just off to the shop to get a cabbage. Just taking Big Puppy for a walk. How are your cats? Oh, I see you are juggling cat-boxes… Anything you want to tell me? Go on, grant me an exclusive…

The idea is that I would take six with me on moving day, assuming none have died in the interim (two are very old), and put the other seven in the cattery. This will be expensive. It will also involve getting them all vaccinated – twice. Fourteen injections will be even more expensive than one night for seven in the cattery, I suspect.

And this afternoon at 2 o’clock I have another estate agent. I just dread them; dread all ‘incomers’ to tell the truth. This is my hidey-hole, my sanctuary. I’ve met him once – he seemed really nice, all smiley. And I need an estate agent: they are so good at what I’m so bad at – selling. I suppose that’s it – it’s the fact that they are nice to me. It’s so easy to be persuaded that you have made a New Best Friend, even though you know that as soon as you’ve safely signed on the dotted line of the Agency Agreement you will be passed on to an eighteen year old trainee back at the office and never hear from your New Best Friend again. I’m allergic to salesmen, and yet… if only they really liked me.

 

Hey honey, take a walk on the wild side

I recently learned that Google has extended its mapping service and now not only drives along people’s roads, filming their houses and catching them out in such nefarious activities as walking the poodle, taking the bins out, etcetera, but also employs relays of solitary walkers to film trails inside the Peak District National Park. The walkers set out with that periscope-type camera strapped to their backs. I am just wondering why Google doesn’t use drones now – or maybe it does. The scary little beasties seem to be everywhere, so why not some low-level flying along walking paths and up and down mountain tracks? The occasional beheaded walker to be written off as collateral damage.

Because after all look at the results – and they are truly impressive:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-derbyshire-29933459

The Peak District has become the first national park to have its trails and hard-to-reach locations captured on Google Street View.

http://www.ukclimbing.com/news/item.php?id=69285

Selected bits of the Peak District have become the first off-road terrain in a British national park to be featured on Google’s Street View.

I am not against Google Maps per se, having used them myself when house-hunting. It’s very useful to be able to walk up and down the road in which you are thinking of viewing a house, since that highly-photo-shopped picture of the house on the property websites doesn’t give you any idea what sort of area it is in – whether there’s a gasworks at the end of the street; or the street’s so narrow there’s nowhere to park; or there’s a school right opposite which will be besieged by parking ‘mummies’ and dangerously running-about children twice a day; or there are tattered red and white ‘England’ flags flapping out of the windows – meaning you will be living in a National Front stronghold, or at least among an unacceptably high number of football fanatics, who will drink lager in their front rooms during the World Cup and cheer, suddenly.

Google Maps does save you a lot of time and petrol but it works both ways. Prospective buyers of your house, who might otherwise be fooled into coming and viewing it, may take a virtual dislike, and you’ve lost them before you’ve begun.

And it is useful for spying. When the Irish lady (she of the red jumper who lurked behind the glass – see earlier post) and her husband moved away, unexpectedly I was feeling lonely without them. In a moment of weakness I typed into Google Maps the name of the far-away town they had moved to, and the street name, and then ‘walked’ the length and breadth of it.

I imagined them walking there in the flesh. Which way would they go to the shops? What would they see around this corner? Was there a bit of a park nearby, for the old dog’s daily walkies? But it didn’t end there. Confession time. Unable to resist employing a minor gift for detective work I managed to find their house, still on sale on the estate agent’s website (they leave them there for ages after they’re sold, I’ve discovered – to make you think there is much more on their books than there is – oh that one, unfortunately that one just sold, but this one… ) and clicked on ‘Start Slideshow’, and inspected every single one of their new rooms. The place was smaller than I expected, though neat and newly-decorated. Shame about that little bit of decking instead of a garden…

I imagined I was the only one with this grubby little secret but later discovered that most of the neighbours had done variations on the same prying search. Even the lady who had bought the house next door had done it. She was cross with them for not telling her about the rotten floorboards concealed beneath the bedroom carpet. I think she was plotting long-distance virtual vengeance of some sort.

This virtual Peak District tour, though – it’s walking porn – walking for those who haven’t the energy to walk, just want to enjoy the views they would enjoy if they were walking. Similarly there’s cookery porn – cookery programmes for those who live on chips and take-away curries in real life – gardening porn – garden makeover programmes for those whose gardens are full of children’s toys, dog poo, long grass and rusty swings – holiday porn – for those who can’t even afford a train ticket to Blackpool – and even ballroom porn – for those who have never sewn on a sequin and couldn’t fleckle if their lives depended on it. And now we have this long-distance yomping porn – for those who rarely get off the sofa or close their laptops. Slugs, the lot of ’em.

Google’s latest wheeze did, however, inspire me into writing post. I thought I would go out for my usual walk round the block, but ‘wearing’ an imaginary periscope-type Google camera. (There is only one walk you can do here, really, unless you go round twice, or clockwise sometimes and anti-clockwise other times, or make a sort of squarish figure-of-eight of it by cutting through alleyways.) With the help of my imaginary periscope-type Google camera I would proceed to ‘record’ my little walk, but using words in place of film. This, then, would be boredom porn – for those who actually have interesting and beautiful places to walk, but yearn to experience the exotic desolation of my surroundings – without actually having to come here.

So, out of the back door (everyone uses their back doors as their front doors round here. My house doesn’t have a front door, only a side door – but I don’t use that) and here is my garden. The grass is a bit too long. Felix is crouching in the midst of it, eyes firmly fixed on the wire bird-feeder, swaying with hungry sparrows in spite of him. He doesn’t eat them very often. More often he just watches. Sparrow porn.

Now round the slippery, muddy bit at the side – when it rains, torrents of mud slide down the hillside and make, specifically, for my driveway – and out into the road. Opposite, now, is the house of Caravan Man. He used to be Washing Man because he was depressed and would stand in his back garden for hours watching his white sheets rotating on his rotary drier. Now he’s got a girlfriend – well, sort of – so he’s given over watching his sheets go round (laundry porn) and bought a white caravan, not to use for anything but to fill up the whole of the concrete hard-standing outside his house so that lorries, vans and neighbours can no longer use it for reversing. Now they struggle with tight three-point turns and worsen the potholes instead. The potholes are full of water. This morning the Council men came and (hurrah!) one of them raised the other up in a cherry-picker and he mended the orange streetlamp. Tonight, for the first time in months, there will be something other than pitch-darkness outside our windows.

Weather – blue sky, just little scratty bits of cloud. But it’s cool. The lawns are wet, the potholes still full of stormwater. Autumn is here to stay.

Past the Chinese chap with the very loud voice and the nice garden.

Past the chap at the end who breeds parrots and lets several dogs out every time he sees me. Hello, doggies! Disappointingly for him, dogs do not tend to attack me.

Past the nettles – a whole back garden, nothing but nettles. I wonder if there is the corpse of a stabbed-person in the middle (we specialise in stabbings round here) or maybe a maggot-infested badger, or an ancient mattress with brambles growing through the springs…

It reminds me of Nan’s garden. There was an old apple tree surrounded by a sea of mint, and on one sawn-off branch of the tree the head of a bisque doll. My uncle hung the dolls head on a twig. Then he joined the RAF and went away, and the twig grew, and grew, and eventually the doll’s head was firmly stuck on the fattened twig. Nan warned me that the doll’s head would be bound to break – the twig would burst it. I didn’t believe her. Then it happened. That’s life, isn’t it? Bad things happen, but somehow you manage to pretend they might not.

And then they do.

THE DARKNESS OF THE MUSIC OF THE NIGHT

When I moved here I thought – well, this is the middle of nowhere, the end of the earth, but at least I’ll be able to get a good night’s sleep.

It was not exactly the area I would have chosen, but it was the nearest I could afford to move to my ailing mother. This week I have been wondering how much longer I will be here. A few days back I was visiting her at home with a lady social worker and Mum airily referred to me as my friend over there. She was never much of a one for verbal flourishes, but could she have meant it in an elliptical, literary sort of way? Or had she, for that moment, forgotten my name and how we were related? These lapses are only brief; another time she will know me, but for how much longer? Not too long I suspect before it doesn’t really matter where I am; I’ll just need to turn up to visit every couple of weeks and remind her I was once her daughter.

When that time does come maybe I will up sticks and go back to where I once belonged; or go somewhere else new, where I have never belonged. Maybe at that point I’ll discover that what’s left of my gypsy spirit has trickled away and I just can’t face all over again packing my life into cardboard boxes; amassing two great lever-arch files of legal paperwork, one labelled Sale and one labelled Purchase; booking cattery places on an industrial scale and being fawned over by two separate sets of estate agents. Oh for a crystal ball and a magic wand.

Well, it certainly is dark here. We did have a street-light. It gave off a faint orange light, most of the time. The lamp-post is still here, right opposite my house, listing drunkenly to port, but the orange light no longer lights up. Opposite my house is where lorries and delivery vans are obliged to reverse, so being reversed into was something of a foregone conclusion for that poor, solitary lamp-post, but that wasn’t what stopped it working. That was the local Council on one of its economy drives. Since we lived in the middle of nowhere they didn’t think we would miss it.

Almost every night the current custodian of the famous, beautiful and psychic Felix (see FELIX BROUGHT ME A MOUSE) stumbles up and down our unmade road in pitch darkness with a torch in search of him. We have all memorised the potholes and it is possible to avoid them, even in the dark, but you have to concentrate. Firstly Neighbour whistles that anxious, repetitive cat-summoning whistle that cats automatically disregard, then he starts with the calling:

Felix? Felix? Where are you, boy?

Felix quite often lurks in my back garden but I refuse to reveal his secrets. Felix and I have a bond.

I know what’s going to happen next. After ten minutes or so the whistling and calling resumes in my back garden. I am not supposed to notice. I am assumed to be asleep.

Felix? Felix? Where are you, boy?

This does rather annoy me. How come I am the only person in the street whose back garden can be entered by anyone who pleases? Just like I was the only person who could be left sitting around in a waiting room at the eye hospital with both eyes full of atropine drops, unable to read a magazine or even see the time on the clock without help, until the drops wore off and had to be put in again because a lot of more important people came in.

They have a different concept of privacy round here. It’s a cultural difference. At one point I found several children clustered round my side door, laboriously reading aloud a note I had taped to it for the delivery man. My next door neighbour at that time was an Irish lady with a red jumper. She’d never knock, just somehow be outside my side door now and again. I’d pass the side door and either catch her clambering stiffly over the low garden wall that separated our two houses or she’d just be there, silently waiting for me to pass my side door on the inside, catch sight of a scarlet woolly cloud behind the glass and open up. It could have been an hour since I last passed the door.  Had she been there all that time?

Felix? Felix? Where are you, boy?

If the worst comes to the worst Neighbour knocks on my door, wringing his hands in the darkness, distressed, pathetic, imploring, and I have to put on my fluffy slippers and go out into my own rain-soaked garden, with my own torch, in my dressing gown, to search for his cat. Felix, wherever he is, now realises the game is up; Neighbour will almost certainly have disappeared into his own house, a svelte black and white bundle under his arm, long before I get back to my living room, muddy, cross and even less likely to sleep.

Then there are the shift-workers coming home. This tends to be about 2.30 a.m. if they’re on 7 to 2. Their headlights sweep past my window, gravel swishes, rainwater exits deep potholes with a splosh, car radio gets turned off in mid-thump, car door opens, car door is slammed shut. Sometimes they give each other lifts and then there has to be the lengthy goodbye-see-you-tomorrow-all-right-mate conversation.

Then there are the doggy conversations echoing all round the hillside. These have got louder and more frequent since the coming of a giant black dog, Ayesha (Ajska) who was rescued by my next-door neighbour from another, far less kindly, neighbour. Ayesha is actually a lady of Polish origins; she has a Polish passport, even. She also has the deepest, loudest bark imaginable and is an early riser. Four o’clock in the morning:

Wooooooof!!! (It’s ME!!!)

At once a doggy dawn chorus starts up, answering her, answering one another:

Here I am! Me too!! Are you there? No, I’m here! Who are you? Are you her? No, I’m me! Who’s me? Me! You know me! Me down here. You’re down there? I’m up here! He’s over there!

Occasionally there is a party and dance music will drift up to me from open windows. That isn’t too bad – it’s free music after all, and sometimes I sing along. It’s the way the partygoers tend to get drunker and drunker and louder and louder that’s the problem. Then come the arguments and then the bottle-throwing. Everything seems to echo round here. Thunderstorms; parties; Saturday night Karaoke in the social club down the road; police car sirens; ambulance sirens; after-pub staggering home conversations, the boys cajoling, the girls shrieking in response. Once in a terrible while a girl will scream and not stop screaming. Occasionally gangs of caravan site people bump into gangs of locals on the beach and stab one other. Drowning would be a quieter, and the sea is conveniently close, but knives seem to be favourite. Shortly thereafter, the sirens. But that’s only on the worst nights.

There are pleasanter noises. Bats for instance: strictly speaking you don’t hear bats, their cries being ultrasonic, but you do kind of sense them drawing near. Somewhere around nine or nine-thirty, that’s their time. You’ll see them if you are patient: watch for a bird not moving like a bird, something black and winged that dips and swoops, abruptly changing direction. At around the same time the hedgehog is on the move. On moonlit nights, look for a patch of lawn appearing to move; a small, round, scuttling segment of darkness. At around midnight he’ll come closer in search of food. I leave a bowl of cat food out for him; sometimes Felix nabs it first but if there’s any left the hotchi-pig has it. And I always know which one of them it was. Cats will pick from the bowl, and always leave some; hedgehogs stand in the bowl, tip it up, empty it out and clatter it around with their little pointy snouts; and in the morning there is nothing left.

I once went out to change the bowl of cat food. In the darkness, I groped around for the bowl in its usual place and found the hedgehog instead. Hedgehog hearing isn’t good; my hand accidentally brushed the top of his spines. Instantly, a great clattering and scrabbling as he jumped forward and rolled himself into a ball. Sorry, I whispered, putting the new food down and creeping indoors to bed.

Singing, or something, in the rain

It’s a good thing I live in England. There wouldn’t be nearly enough rain anywhere else. How could anyone bear to live in a desert, deprived of that reassuring splashy-sploshy sound, those puddly, half-empty streets, that blessed curtain of anonymity? How do people think of anything to talk about where there is neither rain nor the possibility of rain?

And of course, it’s raining today. Earlier on I found some shoes and a mac and shuffled up to the post box with a letter. I live in an unmade road, and all its craters were full of muddy water. Sparrows were bathing. Where do sparrows bathe where there is no rain? What do sparrows drink? Or perhaps where there is no rain there are no sparrows. Coming back I met my down-the-end-of-the road neighbour – hooded, wellington-booted, stout walking stick in one hand and the end of Big Puppy’s lead in the other. Big Puppy is no longer a puppy and has a proper name which I’ve got written down somewhere for Christmas card purposes – something inappropriate – Charles or Montmorency.

Well, what do you think if this then? she remarks, not stopping.

Lovely for August, isn’t it? I reply, also not stopping.

They say it’s set in for the week, she chuckles, disappearing round the bend.

Now, what else could we have discoursed about with such convenient brevity, without having to get wetter than we already were?

My next-door neighbour just got a dog too. Huge, long-leggety beastie. Midnight black. I think of him as Baskerville although he may be a lady; I can’t see his undercarriage in that much detail from my spy-window on the upstairs landing. He/she has a very deep woof. Every night starting about 11pm he/she conducts long, lovelorn conversations across my back garden and under my bedroom window for what feels like hours with Millicent, the chocolate labradoodle on the other side :

  • Wooooooof!!
  • Woof?
  • Woooooooff!
  • Woof? Woof?
  • Woooooooff!

And then other dogs stationed all over the hillside join in.

  • Woof?
  • Woof-Woof!
  • Woof?!

Come spring I may need move house. But it’s possible Baskerville will have moved on by then. Maybe he’s the school dog and it’s Neighbour’s turn to look after him in the summer holidays, as is the case with class guinea pigs, class rats etc. Maybe he belongs to her second-cousin who’s gone to Spain for six weeks and will shortly return to claim him.

They say particular personality types are attracted to rain. According to the internet (so it must be true) these types tend to be INFP on the Myers-Briggs typology:

Creative, smart, idealist, loner, attracted to sad things, disorganized, avoidant, can be overwhelmed by unpleasant feelings, prone to quitting, prone to feelings of loneliness, ambivalent of the rules, solitary, daydreams about people to maintain a sense of closeness, focus on fantasies, acts without planning, low self-confidence, emotionally moody, can feel defective, prone to lateness, likes esoteric things, wounded at the core, feels shame, frequently losing things, prone to sadness, prone to dreaming about a rescuer, disorderly, observer, easily distracted, does not like crowds, can act without thinking, private, can feel uncomfortable around others, familiar with the darkside, hermit, more likely to support marijuana legalization, can sabotage self, likes the rain, sometimes can’t control fearful thoughts, prone to crying, prone to regret, attracted to the counter culture, can be submissive, prone to feeling discouraged, frequently second guesses self, not punctual, not always prepared, can feel victimized, prone to confusion, prone to irresponsibility, can be pessimistic.

I did the test out of interest and came out INFJ which is, if anything, worse. Very similar description. Where does that bit about marijuana legalization come from? And familiar with the darkside? Wot, like Darth Vader?

At least I am now in an appropriate profession, if you can call it a profession when you don’t make any money from it. Writers, unsurprisingly, fall into INFP and INFJ as do poets, painters, musicians, songwriters, art historians, library assistants, cartoonists, philosophers, environmentalists, bookstore owners… Can’t you just see us all?

  • Stringy beards…
  • Oxfam tank-tops…
  • Sandals…
  • Round-shouldered…
  • Unwashed.

But still I do like rain, even if it does consign me to some morbid, sad-sack, creative psycho-ghetto. As a child on my daily walk to the station to catch the train to school, I would pass an allotment plot with a wire fence. When it had been raining I used to tap the wires to release the raindrops collected on the wires. It was a kind of magic. Impossible to think about double maths when tapping raindrops. As a teenager, when I first began to realise I was going to have to be a writer I used to imagine myself living alone in a kind of shed with a tin roof in the middle of a forest. The tin roof was important. In my fantasy there was an ancient black typewriter like the one I taught myself to touch-type on, and it was always raining. Rain on the tin roof. Rain in the forest outside. Rain and writing, writing and rain. Now I am older I think I might include a threadbare sofa, a loaf of crusty bread, a pot of jam and a cat or two.

Later I liked to watch the blue or orange reflections of street lights in puddles at night, and I enjoyed those old  fifties films where it always seemed to be raining. Singing in the Rain has to be the rain film of all rain films. All that joyous splashing about. Not that I’d ever do that. Dance. Splash about. Joyously. None of that carry-on.

In any case, here I am, not in a rainy forest with a typewriter but on a stormy hillside with a word-processor and the incessantly Woooooofing Baskerville for company. Oh, and now some lunatic has decided to start some chain-sawing-in-the rain two roads up. People – it’s people who spoil things. Ooops – INFJ-ing again.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1ZYhVpdXbQ

Gene Kelly Singing in the Rain, of course. Doesn’t it remind you of when you are a child and you see a ginormous puddle and you just have to….

And this link is to the original Everly Brothers’ version of Crying In The Rain. They were so young and beautiful at the time. YouTube also has one of them some years later and somewhat chubbier. By this time something sad seems to have happened, either to them or the song. It’s all very glitzy but they sound like they’re singing at half speed.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qox-X5zr0lM

Ah, thunder…