Instead of a handbag…

The Rusty Post Box

Well, I have voted. I am registered for a postal vote and they arrive about two weeks before the election. I could actually walk the dull, fifteen minute walk to the village hall to cast my vote among my fellow villagers but it’s just – so depressing. So, I climbed the dull, two minute climb up the hill to the Rusty Post Box to post my vote – I always return it the same day, before any cat can widdle or vomit on it, or decide to shred it for the pure catty amusement of it.

It was several years before I dared risk inserting anything into the mouth of the Rusty Post Box, assuming the Post Office had abandoned it to its fate, forever to moulder beside the overflowing, never emptied litter bin, steadily encroached upon by vicious triffid brambles from a nearby garden… I have never seen a place like this for Things Falling Apart. It’s almost artistic.

Have you ever thrown a book away?

This was a question posed in a Radio 4 broadcast yesterday. I must say – yes, and no. I recently managed a mass throw-out and taking-to-charity shops. However, a good two thirds of my book collection remained, mouldering in the garage. I only managed it by not stopping to look at what I was throwing into the bags-for-life. However, then I chickened out, and now I have a house full of the remaining books, comfortably warm and dry, but with weird gaps. One or two books missing from a run of the same author, books, like missing teeth. All that random throwing out… So of course I am having to replace them.

It made me think of The Life Of King George V. This is the worse book ever but I find myself unable to throw it out. It came in a job lot with the £2 Odhams’ Encyclopaedia, which I did want. I suspect the owner was glad to get rid of it. It is the ghastliest, grubbiest, dullest, most foxed, most sycophantically fulsome old book I have ever had the misfortune to come across, full of full page brown, smelly old pictures of Royalty in all their medals and jewels, looking unforgiving. To give you just a taste:

The next year saw the King “do his bit” in another way. He gave £100,000 out of his private fortune to the Exchequer to be used for the prosecution of war. It was a notable gesture of self-sacrifice in the common cause, and the extent to which this generous gift crippled the King’s resources was shown by the difficulties of the Royal Household after the war.

So it goes through his life, year by year, one praiseworthy Kingly deed after another. But can I throw it out? No. I find myself hovering with the filthy, dusty old thing over the waste bin. Can I let go of it? It’s managed to survive this long with nobody reading it, nobody caring about it… etc.

Instead of a handbag

Another marathon conversation with Canadian Sister last night. She worries about things, and because she always had a husband to make decisions for her she struggles to make even the smallest them now.

I have to take all of my course artwork in to the University in a suitcase later today (they’re many hours behind us in Edmonton) My tutor won’t give me a grade if I don’t, but the suitcase with all the paintings in it is so heavy I don’t know how I’m going to manage it on the train. All those steps to drag it up…

Is there a lift – sorry, elevator – at the station?

Well, I haven’t seen one.

Wouldn’t somebody be likely to help you up the steps with the case? I mean, in this country if a woman is struggling up a flight of steps with a child in a pushchair, someone will always grab the bottom of the pushchair and help her with it.

I don’t think they do that sort of thing in Canada. They’re more likely to yell at me for blocking the staircase. It’s quite narrow, you see.

But I thought Canadians were all so courteous. I mean, they’re famous for it! What about that beautiful Mountie chap from Down South? Aren’t all Canadians like him?

Someone did help me with a case once, at the airport, on my way over to England. In fact he grabbed the whole huge travel trunk and ran off with it up the stairs. I thought he had stolen it, like, instead of my handbag or something. I was in a terrible panic, but he was there waiting for me at the top of the stairs.

What about a taxi?

Oh yes, they do have taxis at the station… But what if the taxi-driver should be a rapist?

Poor Rosie

Rosie, I am afraid, is becoming incontinent. Well, she is incontinent. You probably don’t want to know this but – I’ve started so I’ll finish. Every time I sit down I have to check the end of sofa Rosie and I share – luckily a third-hand and leather(ish) sofa – for little puddles and dribbles of poo. Every time she sits on my lap I forget to grab a cushion or put something between me and her. Consequently I am washing a pair of jeans every day, in fact sometimes twice a day. Just can’t bring myself to open the door to the postman adorned in driblets of poo. Mind you, I could be wearing an orange wig and full clown make-up and it wouldn’t register with the postman.

Poor Rosie, she has been my light and salvation for eighteen years and I’m not getting rid of her now she has become a little inconvenient. If only they had the same sort of thing for cats as they have for my Mum and her fellow inmates. Maybe they do, but I wouldn’t have her suffer the indignity.

Dead Fly Biscuits and Other Horrors

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

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

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

Have you got a Bible?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And God…

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

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

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

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

Well no, not all of them.

Inside, I mean.

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

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

The Bible…

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

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

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

He smelt of cows.

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

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

He did not catch me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The manufacturer will not allow you to move…

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

I’m ‘Enery the Eighth, I am

  • I’m ‘Enery the Eighth, I am,
  • ‘Enery the Eighth I am, I am!
  • I got married to the widow next door,
  • She’s been married seven times before
  • And every one was an ‘Enery
  • She wouldn’t have a Willie nor a Sam
  • I’m her eighth old man named ‘Enery
  • ‘Enery the Eighth, I am!

I remember this song being rattled out over the radio when I was a child. For non-British readers I should mention – though it’s probably fairly obvious – that the lyrics are slightly saucy, and would definitely have been so in 1910 when the song was written, since Willie is the common term for a gentleman’s naughty-bits.

(My Polish vet accidentally managed to amuse me by enquiring of William, one of my many ginger moggies “And how’s my Leetle Willy?” I kept a straight face – inherited from Grandad, see below.)

It was written in 1910 and originally sung by music hall star Harry Champion. He must have made a record of it since even I am not old enough to have been to the music hall, although my Grandfather did. My Grandfather was a silent, dour sort of chap. You had to know him well to tell when he was being humorous. No twinkle appeared in his eye. He never smiled, or particularly looked in your direction. There might have been no one in the room with him. He just went on, puffing at his pipe, staring into space and suddenly you’d find yourself thinking – that was funny!

But obviously he couldn’t always have been like that, since he once told a story about sitting up in the balcony with his mates at the music hall –a rather risqué place to go in those days – peeling oranges and aiming the peel down the collars of the people in the seats below. I suppose he may have had his pipe clenched between his teeth like Popeye even then, since he told he started on the old St Bruno Flake at nine. Or was that also a joke?

Anyway, that was the sort of song he would have heard, and probably enjoyed singing along to. And some of the songs lived on, long after music hall itself had faded out, overtaken by the new cinemas of the 1920s. My father used to come out with a scattering of semi-nonsensical verses to amuse us. Most of them required a cockney accent, but then most of us in the C1 to E demographic can do a fairish cockney accent, if encouraged and in cheery mood. (Unlike Dick Van Dyke who in the 1964 musical film Mary Poppins perpetrated absolutely the worst cockney accent of all time):

  • Oh! it really is a wery pretty garden
  • And ‘Endon to the westward could be seen
  • And by clinging to the chimbley
  • You could see across to Wembley
  • If it wasn’t for the ‘ouses in between

and

  •  My old man said “Foller the van,
  • And don’t dilly dally on the way”.
  • Off went the van wiv me ‘ome packed in it,
  • I followed on wiv me old cock linnet.
  • But I dillied and dallied, dallied and I dillied
  • Lost me way and don’t know where to roam.
  • Well you can’t trust a special like the old time coppers.
  • When you can’t find your way ‘ome.

and

  •  Oh! Mr Porter, what shall I do?
  • I want to go to Birmingham
  • And they’re taking me on to Crewe,
  • Take me back to London, as quickly as you can,
  • Oh! Mr Porter, what a silly girl I am.

It’s difficult to explain how very comforting these silly old tunes and daft words can be if you’re British, especially in beleaguered times when disgusting diseases, criss-crossing warplanes, random shootings and chemical weapons feel as if they’re coming out of the woodwork at us. They act as a kind of charm and a litany – akin to the Shipping Forecast on Radio 4 every night. The announcer starts: And now the Shipping Forecast, issued by the Met Office on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency at [time of issue] today – then embarks on his measured, methodical progress, clockwise around the waters around the British Isles.

And somehow you feel… it’s OK. We’re still an island, safely surrounded by tracts of water we can’t imagine and which the majority wouldn’t recognise if we saw them, and over which it might currently be hailing or snowing, blowing a gale, threatening rain. There they all are: Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire, Forties, Cromarty, Forth, Tyne, Dogger, Fisher, German Bight, Humber…

Nothing bad can have happened –Radio 4 is still talking to us and we’re still wrapped in our blanket of sea. It’s not the words themselves it’s the sound and the rhythm, like poetry. In a world of nuclear weapons, random shootings and dire diseases, they are a charm and a litany. They comfort us greatly.

As, of course, do a few special pieces of music. And this is one of them:

 

South Korean violinist Julia Hwang, then aged 15

The Lark Ascending: Ralph Vaughan Williams

 It was inspired by a poem of the same name by George Meredith (1828–1909) which begins:

  • HE rises and begins to round,
  • He drops the silver chain of sound
  • Of many links without a break,
  • In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake,
  • All intervolv’d and spreading wide,
  • Like water-dimples down a tide
  • Where ripple ripple overcurls
  • And eddy into eddy whirls….

I have to say I’m not convinced this picture, which was listed as ‘lark’, is actually a lark, or a sky-lark. I thought they were plain brown and speckled. No doubt bird-watchers the world over have been muttering to themselves throughout this piece either ‘That’s not a lark!’ (if it actually isn’t) or ‘What a pretty lark’ (if it actually is). Whatever – it’s meant to be a lark. It symbolises lark… It represents lark…

ALL SHALL BE WELL AND ALL SHALL BE WELL

I haven’t listened to Radio 4 for a while and assumed that Thought For The Day had long since ceased to be. Probably the only programmes destined to last for ever on Radio 4 – assuming Radio 4 lasts for ever – are The Archers and Desert Island Discs. However, I was mistaken. Thought For The Day is still alive and kicking, and ‘tasters’ are available here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00szxv6/clips

I often wondered how these speakers actually came by their Thoughts. Did they wake in the middle of the night before the broadcast with the whole thing mapped out in their heads? Or labour for months beforehand in wonderful, book-lined studies, with old-fashioned typewriters, surrounded by unwashed coffee cups and balled-up bits of paper?

Mostly the insights one wakes up with in the middle of the night turn out to be gibberish in the cold blue light of morn, although I did once get the Meaning of Life – or one of them – in a sudden flash. Driving down a narrow country lane (not the safest of circumstances for a Road to Damascus experience) it came to me that The Two Worlds Are One. And I still have those words, but only the vaguest of notions of what they signified. It wasn’t something you could think about, you see. It just was, it was a knowing. But of course, you can’t go around having knowings all the time. Sometimes you have to do the dishes and hang out the washing. For all but a fraction of your life, all you are likely to be able to manage is thinking.

Last night I woke up with a Thought. Only one, but here it is:

That sometimes you are powerless to forestall disaster, and that this is the hardest thing of all to get your head round. When you read books, when you see films, there’s always something the characters can do to make things right. The road out may be through Hell itself, but there always is a road out. But in real life sometimes you just have to stand back and watch the person you love rambling towards that precipice, singing a foolish little song to themselves, and knowing there isn’t going to be much left of them if they go over.

Which is quite gloomy, but then I thought – we all have many lives, and we – or our potential selves between lives – design our next lives with care, and maybe with help, so as to continue the process of learning and refinement. And so it seems to me the person wandering towards the edge intended to go over – or not, as the case may possibly be – when designing this particular life for themselves. And the person forced to watch disaster unfold also intended to be there. You intended to be there. What better lesson for the ego than that for once there should be no road out, that here is where it happens, here is where you stand and wait.

It seems to me that you and I and our small group of friends, relatives and acquaintances are involved in a kind of dance through time. We meet up, life after life. Sometimes you are my father, sometimes my brother, sometimes my child, sometimes my murderer and sometimes my friend. Sometimes you play a walk-on part – that person who dropped the jar of marmalade in the supermarket that day; that person who stood next to me at the bus stop one sunny Spring day – and sometimes we share the lead; sometimes you may miss a life, or I may, but we will always meet up in the end. So let’s just hope that:

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

Julian of Norwich