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!

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

Keep Calm And Carry On

This phrase – famous from mugs, biscuit tins tea towels and whatever – was invented by the British Government in 1939 just before the start of the Second World War. It was a motivational poster intended to carry the British populace through such horrors as the Blitz, and to remind them that the British were famous for their Stiff Upper Lip. I can’t imagine what a Stiff Upper Lip looks like, in practice, can you? How did they communicate, with all that stiffness going on?

For some reason, in spite of the Blitz actually Happening and turning out to be Even Worse than Anybody Could Have Imagined, the poster was hardly used.

I was thinking it’s a bit like that now. Still no motivational poster, while we wait, with a growing sense of Foreboding, for those superpower idiots to stumble into bombing and nuking – or maybe horribly gassing and poisoning – the hell out of one another, presumably in and around what’s left of Syria. And in the meantime a military grade nerve agent, apparently capable of wiping out the entire population of the UK, is used on a former Russian spy and his daughter on the quiet streets of – of all places – Salisbury. Until now, nothing of note ever happened in Salisbury. People who don’t live there are not even sure where it is. It was just getting on with things, minding its own business.

But we are the British. We possess Stiff Upper Lips. We Keep Calm and Carry On. Apparently. But it seems to me that that is what ordinary people, everywhere, tend to do. Mostly.

My Mum had what they then called a Nervous Breakdown, around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. At the time I wasn’t aware of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and only aware of my Mum’s Nervous Breakdown because it involved what seemed to me like Years of lying on the sofa taking aspirins every four hours, and Nan coming along the road to do Mum’s housework after she had done her own, and me getting ignored and understanding that this was all My Fault. Indeed, my father told me it was My Fault. Mine and my sister’s, for fighting so much.

The thing Mum was most worried about, she told me later, was the Atomic Bomb. The Atomic Bomb was about to fall on all of us, any day now, and we would be just like the people in Hiroshima, reduced to piles of smoking ash, black shadows on walls or irradiated to death. Now we all live with that, don’t we? It’s got old and tired, and we no longer have Nervous Breakdowns over it. Indeed, we no longer have Nervous Breakdowns. We get Tired and Emotional, or we suffer from Exhaustion and have to book ourselves into some Clinic or other, for Cognitive Therapy.

All over the world, we carry on; we wash the dishes and put out the rubbish; we feed our pets and fill in our tax returns; we grumble because the bus hasn’t turned up – again; we wonder whether we should mow the lawn, or is it too wet still? There is nothing whatsoever we can do about the Bigger Picture: having no power to do anything else we focus on our postage-stamp lives and hope that somehow or other Armageddon will give us a miss.

Yesterday – apropos of nothing, or something, not sure – I took Fifi to the vet to get her claws clipped. For months she had been hooking up on one bit of furniture or another. It was time. But Fifi didn’t think so. Fifi is a tiny tabby, old and kind of frizzy looking, but on the nurse’s table she turned into a Wild Beast. It took two nurses to hold her, plus the application of a teensy-tiny muzzle that covered her whole face so she couldn’t see and being wrapped in a thick blanket. The nurses wrestled with poor Fifi, whose snarls and spitting could be clearly heard in the waiting room, and finally the claws were clipped. “If only you could have just Kept Calm, Fifi,” said one of the nurses, “it would all have been over with in a few seconds.”

But cats, unlike humans, are not programmed to Keep Calm And Carry On.

keep calm 2

The Quality of Mercy

I must admit I am approaching this piece of writing gingerly. The thought of being trolled by some appalling witch of a woman in Tower Hamlets, some union-jack flapping person in Penge or a coven of ghastly, acne-faced sprogs in Market Harborough, fills me with dread. This is just my opinion, and you are free to decide I’m wrong.

Firstly, on the BBC’s news channel today were further details of the Welsh politician who took his own life this week, whilst under investigation by the Labour Party. Now – after his death – it appears that the accusations are in connection with inappropriate touching, or groping. He and his family felt that he had been denied natural justice. Since he had not been allowed to have any details of the accusations, he could not defend himself.

This is what I think:

No action is so bad that a human being should be driven by public opinion to commit suicide. Whatever someone has been accused of, in this country at least, they remain innocent until proven guilty. And even if they are eventually proven guilty they should be given a chance to put their side of the story, to apologise, to express remorse and to attempt to make amends. We do not have the moral right to push another person over the edge.

That thing about casting the first stone – male or female, which of us hasn’t done or said stuff in their past that – in the light of current thinking – they now wish they hadn’t?  Is it proportional, is it fair to seek a belated revenge for some decades-old pat on the knee or unwanted kiss after a boozy lunch by destroying somebody’s career? We cannot really know the vulnerabilities of others. They may appear strong and confident, but how desperate might they be, inside, right now? They could be waving, but then again they might be drowning.

wavingMy second thought is about the American actor Kevin Spacey. I don’t know whether he is guilty of all the things he has been accused of – I didn’t even know he was gay – but it seems that now they are planning to edit him out of his latest film. By the miracle of technology they are going to substitute a different actor for him.

Until now there has always been a clear, if unspoken, barrier between the work of an artist and the private life of the same. Painters, musicians, actors, writers, scientific geniuses, just like the rest of us, may be held to account and if necessary prosecuted for any wicked or foolish act they commit, but are we really going to deprive ourselves for ever after of what that person is capable of creating?

It seems to me that Kevin Spacey is one of the very few great American actors. Compared to him most American actors (and yes, actresses) are pants, frankly. Has it now become impossible for him to act in anything, ever again? I have this feeling, you see, that people with gifts are sent here to use them, and preventing them from using them is a form of spiritual torture, which is something none of us has the right to inflict.

I seem to recall that one of the main pieces of advice handed out to couples in counselling and parents having trouble parenting their children is never to say ‘I hate you’, but rather to say ‘I hate what you just did’ or ‘What you said made me angry, and this is why…’ Surely we should apply this principle when those in public life fall short of whatever standard of behaviour society happens to be finding acceptable at the moment?

Surely we could bring ourselves to say: we hate what you did but we will not pretend that you never existed. We will not prevent you from exercising your art, or from giving humanity whatever gift you were sent here to give, because you are human and we too are human. We disapprove of what you may have done in your past and private life, but we will not airbrush you out.

In my monogrammed gold pyjamas…

I don’t normally write about politics – well, maybe a wee nudge in passing – mainly because, after all, who am I?

Closely followed by and who cares what I think?

Supplemented by and in any case, it’s boring. Well, not to me, but then I’m odd. But this post seems to want to be written, and nothing else is queuing up to be written instead of it, so here goes nothing.

I feel I’ve learned quite a few things recently, by observing the rise and rise of Mr Trump in America, and Brexit gradually unfolding in Britain: the value of humility, for instance, and a willingness to modify your opinions where necessary.

When That Woman in the Horrid Trouser Suit, that Elderly Plumber with the Rod Stuart Hairdo and possibly Someone Else Annoying went all the way to the Supreme Court to challenge our Government’s right to trigger Article 50 (signalling our intention to leave the European Union) I was furious. I voted to leave. We voted to leave. I lived in a democracy. I had been given – wisely or not – a vote in a democratic referendum. So I voted. And I won. We won, and now this woman

I hated her. Every time she appeared on my television set yet again, I hated her. However, I would not have abused her on social media, as some did. Neither would I have written a newspaper headline describing the Lord Chief Justice and two of his colleagues, who decided in Ms Miller’s favour, as Enemies of the People. That’s because I’m old fashioned. I believe in courtesy, kindness and moderation. I believe in good sportsmanship – the idea that you should be modest in victory and generous in defeat. I believe that blind fury/incoherent ranting mean you have already lost the argument.

And now, watching what is happening in America, it seems to me that I was wrong even to have thought ungenerous thoughts about Ms Miller and her irritating trouser suit, or those pompous old farts of Judges in their wigs and gowns. I see the various Courts in America struggling to curb the rise of an out-and-out autocrat. I see that they, and the people themselves, protesting in whatever way they can, are now all that stands between democracy and dictatorship, and that may well be the case for the next four or (surely not?) eight years. How could I have thought badly of our own judges for doing what they were appointed to do in helping to define our democracy?

Before this last year, I wondered how dictators ever came to power. How did Hitler, for example, ever get to be in charge of Germany? Couldn’t people have seen through him? How did all those ghastly African dictators get to be in power in the first place? I used to think maybe it was because in Africa people were less sophisticated than us, politically (I know – a prejudice left over from Imperial days) but that did not explain Germany. Now I have watched this process happening, potentially, in the last place I would ever have expected to see it. I see how easy it is to fool at least half of the people, half of the time. And that’s all you need. Half of the people, half of the time.

I have been thinking about the Peter Principle:

Anything that works will be used in progressively more challenging applications until it fails.

Or, more specifically:

In an organizational structure, assessing an employee’s potential for a promotion is often based on their performance in the current job. This eventually results in their being promoted to their highest level of competence, and potentially then to role in which they are not competent, referred to as their “level of incompetence”.

Maybe this is what has happened on a grand scale in America. Someone who was extremely good at one level of “running things” has got himself promoted to a much higher level of “running things” and he’s not exactly coping.

I dislike having to feel sorry for obnoxious people, but in spite of myself I am beginning to feel a little sorry for President Trump. Unwillingly, I try to imagine myself in his place: I am seventy-going-on-three and wandering around the palace of my dreams late at night in my monogrammed gold pyjamas, gleefully exploring its many rooms and corridors. My father’s house has many mansions… Maybe I open a desk drawer here, or peer behind a brocade curtain there. I look up at the portraits of past presidents. Here I am guys!

I wanted to win, and now I have won. At last, I’m in charge…

(My father, an electrician working for the Electricity Board, over the years refused several offers of promotion. He was popular, and a good organiser. He’d probably have made a good foreman, but he used to quote this little verse:

The working class can kiss my ****/ I’ve got the foreman’s job at last.

The extra money would have come in handy for a man with a wife with a wife and three large daughters to support, but he stuck to his socialist principles.)

…but oh, it’s not much fun in my palace of dreams: it’s hard work, it’s long hours and SO much more complicated than I imagined. People don’t just do what I tell them, like they ought to. People are criticizing me. Me!

And there’s NO ESCAPE. I can’t just tell them well, I won – but now I’d really rather go off and play golf a lot or get back to buying hotels. I can’t just turn to the nearest minion and say – here, take over this President thing for me, will you? It’s not nearly as exciting as campaigning.

I’m BORED now.

Now, I am BORED.

So bored!

toad

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.

They did what?

In my perambulations around the internet I keep a weather eye (what is a weather eye, I wonder?) out for things to write about. These tend to be presented in the form of lists numbered one to one hundred. I usually lose interest after about six. Then I tend to file the list, find it a year later and… into the recycling it goes, along with all those brightly coloured posters from people who want to renew my double-glazing, build me a conservatory, persuade me to buy a take-away curry or two at their Balti Restaurant, have my hypothetical poodle groomed at their grooming studio or my nails sculpted at their nail-bar.

And then I end up writing about some murky bit of my past, some ancient, eccentric auntie, my mother in the old folks home, the state of the nation, scrabble… whatever.

So, on the latest list – 100 NOT-boring Writing Prompts for Middle & High Schoolers – let’s start with number 2:

What things will people in the future say about how we live now? (Examples: They ate that? They believed that?)

As far as eating goes…

They actually cooked inoffensive small slimy sea creatures in their shells and then winkled them out with a special winkle-pin? There was actually a Winkle Club with an ornamental winkle pin for each member’s lapel? More bizarrely yet:

Each Winkle Club Member (or ‘Winkler’) carries a winkle shell which they must produce when challenged to ‘winkle up’.

Wikipedia

Drinking…

You mean they actually knocked this tequila stuff back in one go, having first licked salt off the back of their hands and then sucked on a lime?

Believing…

They actually believed that this misogynist with the wispy yellow comb-over and strange hand-gestures might become President? (And he did?)

Or, to be even-handed:

They actually believed that irritating, bearded, totally charisma-free little man with the bewildered expression might be elected Prime Minister? On what planet?

Fifty percent of UK TV presenters continued to pronounce idyllic eyedillic even when they knew (or jolly well should have known) it was wrong?

All sorts of important people continued to pronounce nuclear noo-cu-lar even when the spelling was right there in front of them on the page?

They read? You mean, like, books? They couldn’t plug themselves in and download?

Well, I could go on, but I won’t, as I’m worn out and a cup of coffee, a roomful of neglected cats and Stargate beckon.

Feel free to append as many of your own futuristic “They did whats?” to the list as you would like.

Drawn to the Dark Side

I find myself increasingly fascinated by politics as the years go by. By politics I mean the sharp end, the game of chess at the top, the intricacies of gaining and holding power rather than the trudging of streets, the knocking on doors, the envelope-stuffing, placard-wielding or vote-counting in borrowed halls.

I tune in to The Papers every night on the BBC’s 24 hour News channel and try to get some inkling of what goes on at Westminster, paying attention to the various journalists’ analysis of selected newspaper headlines for the coming day. What I thirst for the story behind the façade. Exactly why did the ghastly Gove dispose of Boris? Exactly how did a single, rather pedestrian comment from this odd little man suffice to end a glittering career? What games of bluff and double-bluff are they and their colleagues playing even as I write? Do they hunch over mugs of cocoa and tumblers of whiskey at the end of the day and plan it all out? If he does this, I shall do that. If he doesn’t do this, I shall do that

Ex collected a whole range of things – strange things such as faded 1940s Christmas decorations and those metal inn-signs once given away (I think) in cigarette packets; obscure blues albums; clockwork toys and the sort of stuff that falls under the general heading of Railwayana – enamel station signs, signalling lamps, station-masters’ hats and so forth. This last was the greatest of his obsessions and it was in the pursuit of enamel signs and signalling lamps that he came up against his nemesis, a collector of exactly the same stuff but on a vaster and more ruthless scale. I shall call him the Agronomist.

I have to say I rather liked the Agronomist, possibly because was like a saner and richer version of Ex – well, richer.  Ex made every effort to look as if he liked the Agronomist, and I suspect he actually did – or would have done if the blighter hadn’t repeatedly swooped in at the last minute to buy up the very item or items he’d wanted for his own collection. The Agronomist possessed a cool head and an apparently bottomless budget and, unlike Ex, was good with people. He had a knack of appearing to be listening with interest to your every word; deeply interested in you even if he wasn’t really. Whenever the two arch-rivals met you could feel them metaphysically circling one another whilst appearing to be engaged in harmless manly chats.

I rambled off there because that I remembered something about the Agronomist. He made handwritten charts which he called his Critical Path Analyses. These charts – which he must have used in his agronomical work as well – charted his collecting career-path. He was a driven man: by the time he reached forty he would have collected so many of these, obtained this, and this, and that. It was all so brilliant, so neat, so detailed – and so not to be. The poor man started getting vile headaches that painkillers wouldn’t touch. He learned he had a brain tumour, and fairly soon afterwards he died. We used to drive backwards and forwards to London to visit him in the hospital, taking his wife, who couldn’t drive, up with us.

I suppose I am drawn to this ruthless streak in people because I was born without it – one of a whole range of items that were not in my suitcase when I landed.  I would so like to have mastered it, the smiling deception, the manoeuvring, the subtle playing of the long game. This same blank area in my brain made me hopeless at office politics. I was continually blundering in on conversations I didn’t understand and blurting out all the wrong things to the wrong people. People hurt and upset me, constantly. I made wrong decisions; I let myself be fooled, over and over again; I fell into one job after another, unable to plot a career, just taking whatever came up. I could no more have designed a Critical Path Analysis than I could have taken flight.

I’ve never been able see my nose in front of my face as far as my life or my future are concerned but strangely, nowadays, I can often work out what the politicians are up to.  Or what I’d be up to, if I was them. In my mind’s eye they become little players on a distant stage or characters in a novel I’m creating. How would I have disposed of the inconvenient Boris, if I’d been the ghastly Gove? And if I was the inconvenient Boris, how would I plan to revenge myself upon said Gove? Would I bide my time, lurking in carpeted corridors, a dagger concealed in my sleeve? Or would I swallow my hatred, smile that sunny smile – c’est la vie, old bean, all’s fair in love and politics – until, one day…

I may have been a Borgia in another life, or a Machiavelli, keeping my friends close and my enemies closer. That must be it. Echoes of another existence, the past casting its long shadow.

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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.

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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?

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Now out fly the little demons

I have no idea who Godot actually was, have you? But Vladimir and Estragon were waiting for him. Waiting, waiting, waiting… It’s how I feel today – as if Godot, in all his multifarious forms, is never going to arrive, and I haven’t even got a fellow-tramp to grumble with.

I’m waiting for WordPress to email me back with the solution to my ‘no links’ problem. They promise twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Suspect even if they do email me I will neither be able to comprehend nor implement their solution, but you never know.

Waiting…

This morning I phoned a firm I used to work for (twice) and asked them if they would take me back for a ‘third term’. I know they are likely to say no, and it has taken me the best part of a week to muster the courage to even phone them. But – can’t afford to leave any stone unturned. You owe it to the cats, I told myself. Not that the cats care. Anyway, now I’ve gone and done it.

And I’m waiting…. and it’s thirteen minutes past two…

Human Resources need to check round various different departments. I am thinking maybe check round various different departments is HR code for no, but we’re too kind to say so; we will say no later today; or maybe we just won’t call you back so that you can surmise that’s what we probably meant? Or does it in fact mean we need to check round various different departments?

So I’m waiting….

And I’m doing what most people do while they are waiting – trying to get on with other stuff. I watched half a repeat of Stargate but remembered the plot so well I turned off the TV. I plodded through a big heap of ironing. Well, that’s done now… I got an idea for a post and here I am writing it.

Well, that’s good…that’s…positive…

We spend so much of our lives on hold, don’t we? At the moment we are waiting for the Referendum, which is Thursday. I get a postal vote and voted weeks ago but still, I’m waiting…

Until today I was telling myself Que Sera, Sera. My one little vote isn’t going to decide things. Who’d want that responsibility? Que sera, sera – but I am starting to be afraid. Whatever the outcome, by the end of this week things will be altered.

Half of the population will be jubilant. The losing half will be furious and will never forget that the winning half opposed them, and won. Either half may decide to consume all the lager they can lay hands on, wrap flags round their stupid shoulders and riot semi-naked in midsummer streets. We seem to be good at that.

The losing half will lose faith in the democracy they totally took for granted up to this point, and the losing half will spend the next ten years blaming the winning half for Every Single Thing that goes wrong with Anything and Everything, from Friday forward, whether related to Europe or not. We will never hear the last of it.

They gave us this choice – that’s democracy. They shouldn’t have given us the choice, that’s the political and psychological reality of the thing. They opened the little wooden casket: now out fly the little demons.

Waiting… My mother is waiting to die. We visited her yesterday and found her in a wheelchair, too weak to stand or even rearrange herself in the chair once the carers lowered her into it. She had spilt porridge and water all over the place and had just been changed yet again. Grey-faced and distracted, she can no longer speak and no longer looks at us. I write our names on the white-board. She stares at it in terror.

She stares out of the window, hoping that a bird or a squirrel might land on the boundary fence. Sometimes she points at the boundary fence, but we but we can’t see what she’s seeing. Her hands shake. Her nails have grown long, like claws. I can’t help her and she can’t help herself. Even the carers can’t help her, only change her, lift her, feed her and bring her beakers of cranberry juice.

It kind of puts paid to my theory of souls. Until this last thing happened to Mum I chose to console myself with the belief that we designed our own life, between lives, when we were again souls. We passed on what we had learned from our past life, rested for a while and then gradually became aware of what we still needed to learn; with help from the wise ones we chose our next incarnation. And down we came, flutter-flutter-flutter, into our new bodies, to continue the eternal learning process. But what can this day-to-day, hour-to-hour, week-to-week suffering possibly be teaching her? What possible purpose is there in being like she is now?

Waiting… waiting… Learning to wait.

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Rambling Rosie Strikes Again

I was chatting with my two old friends in the coffee shop today, about what makes a good teacher, and what makes a bad one. I’ve never been able to express even the simplest of opinions without launching into a rambling reminiscence – often two in quick succession. People’s eyes glaze over. My friends have perfected the kindly art of not looking glazed.

I was telling them about Sybil, who taught me – or rather utterly failed to teach me – History ‘O’ level. And I actually liked history. I remember bounding up to her in the playground afterwards. “I got a grade 9 in History, Syb… Miss”. Grade 9 was the lowest possible fail.

“I know,” she said, gloomily. “Hardly your finest achievement.” It was the only ‘O’ level I had failed.

The trouble with Sybil was threefold: she was elderly, she was nice and she was easily distracted. And my class – my class was J. This sounds bad but we were streamed J, K, L and M. If you were an M you ended up doing various forms of PE all day and making collages. If you were a J you were bright, but troublesome. My class was full of girls who had been transferred from other schools for one reason or another. Girls with anorexia. Girls with a trail of expulsions behind them. Girls with mascara smudged around their eyes. Girls with fiercely backcombed hair screwed into high bunches. Loud girls. Insolent girls.

They quickly cottoned on to the fact that Sybil could be diverted from teaching history every single lesson. One had only to ask her about the time she swam the Suez Canal. With a faraway look in her eyes, she would tell and re-tell that Suez Canal-swimming yarn as paper aeroplanes and elastic bands whizzed over our heads. The panda-eyed brigade particularly liked to jam their wooden rulers upright into closed desks and ping them. As more and more souls joined in the ruler-pinging concert, the room began to thrum in an eerie, Aboriginal way. But in Sybil’s head it was 1929 – a hot Egyptian afternoon and the cicadas whispering in the bushes. She was diving, lightly-clad into the dark, lapping waters, perhaps the merest trill of insouciant laughter escaping her young lips…

Next year the school needed to make up for/disguise the fact that almost an entire class of its brightest pupils had failed its history ‘O’ level. Sybil disappeared and I was allocated to a fiery Welsh teacher for a replacement subject – not History again but something called British Constitution O*. The star meant you were a year older than the norm when taking it, so it was pitched slightly higher. I was taking my ‘A’ levels at the same time. British Constitution meant stuff about politics, the Houses of Parliament, democracy, how women fought to get the vote and the difference between a Bill and an Act… that sort of stuff. Dry as dust, but I loved it. At least, I loved being well-taught by a passionate enthusiast.

Mrs Beynon was short and stocky with chalk on her hands, chalk streaks on her forehead and ragged holes in the armpits of her woolly jumpers. She strode back and forth, thinking on the hoof, talking, explaining, firing questions at us. She made us think hard, very hard indeed; and if we didn’t come up with an answer she just waited – cat-like – until we did. The silence would grow more and more uncomfortable. Eventually even the shy and apathetic were forced to join in. She expected quick-fire adult thinking of us and – unexpectedly – she got it. At the end of one of her lessons – I can remember it now – we would emerge surprised into the daylight, trembling, blinking, strung out, as if we had been fighting for our lives.

I passed that O level, and her teaching was to have a lifelong influence on me. I vote every time even when my vote, statistically, can make no difference whatsoever. Even now I stay glued to the news and politics programmes, trying to fathom, not just what politicians are saying but what they are not saying. I’m fascinated by the intricacies and obfuscations of the law and the machinations of politics – the ulterior motives, the hidden dramas, the lies, the fudges, the diplomatic sidlings up to and creepings away from; the ‘real’ of politik. Most of all I’m grateful that I live in an old and relatively stable country with a tradition of democracy, and do at least have a vote. Up to a point, at least, I’m allowed to think and speak for myself. I have the tools to think and speak with.

She gave me those.