Time to grow out the moustache?

Until this morning I could think of very few positives to the coronavirus situation. As I have said before, choosing to be a hermit is one thing – having hermitry, hermitage or possibly hermitonomy imposed upon one by the Government is another. I self-isolated of my own accord a week early, knowing I was “at risk”, but now I am being compelled to I am sad. Three months, a whole summer confined with a herd of cats, trying to track down cans of catfood. If the worst really comes to the worst they will have to hold their noses and tackle the Bozita. The Bozita has been in the garage for a year. Not only would they not eat it when I bought it, they wouldn’t go within a yard of it.

But this morning I woke up with an idea. Well, I was woken up, forcibly, by Martha, my self-appointed “alarm cat”. She sees it as her duty to push, jump, scratch, dribble most persistently, hour upon hour if necessary, until I drag myself out of bed. My idea?

Let the moustache grow out!!

When will there ever be a better opportunity? Three months of seeing no one except the odd delivery driver – and delivery drivers never look at you. And now, they are so anxious to get away they linger even less. As the Tesco man said, “If you admit to symptoms we will drop your shopping on the doorstep and run away.”

I would not like anyone to think that I am, in my natural state, a grotesquely bearded lady. As far as I remember – back to when I was twelve or thirteen – the moustache was really only what you might expect to appear on a brown-haired English girl. But in those days – we’re talking Sixties, before Women’s Lib – neither facial not armpit hair was acceptable. Girls aimed to look like Twiggy – vacant, pale, pure and skinny. If it was an eyelash, you loaded it with mascara, liberally lubricated with spit. If it was in an armpit, you shaved it. If it was under your nose you bleached, tweezed, shaved, waxed, chemically removed – in fact bazooka’d it in any way you could.

We had a French girl at our school once, on an exchange visit. She was incredibly glamorous, we felt, until we all went to play tennis after school. My God, the girl was hiding a dead hamster under either arm. The horror of it! Poor girl. I hope she took no notice of our titters.

So – three months – maybe more – of not zapping the moustache. It occurs to me that since I am going grey – well pepper-and-salt, anyway – maybe el bigote will come out a soft, wispy grey. If it turns out anything like the above, though, it’s a goner.

Just as an aside. One of my two distant friends phoned me up last night, to check that I was all right. She says she will call me once a week from now on, just to touch base. The awfulness and wonderfulness of this is – that this is the same friend who has struggled all her life with bouts of clinical depression. I have witnessed – from the outside – the horrors she has gone through. I have visited her in a hospital ward, surrounded by mad people. I have found her sobbing behind her computer in the office we shared. I never, really, had any idea what to do for the best. Yet she was the one who called me.

For all the tea in China

Two halves of the same cat

Every autumn I start putting out food for the strays again. I always tell myself I won’t, because strays means bonding and bonding means coming indoors and coming indoors means staying for ever and a day. I remind myself that I cannot save every single stray cat in all the world. Nevertheless, that seems to be what I am programmed to do. I have no other purpose.

The first dishes usually go to waste, but on the second day of the putting out of the food, strays appear; sometimes one, occasionally four but most often two of them. And so it is this year. At first I thought there was only one, since all I could see of it was a large, black furry bottom poking out of the dog/cat kennel whilst the head inside busily slurped. But no, it’s two – I heard yowling round the side and caught them nose to nose, whisker to whisker, an all black one and a mostly black one with white bits on her face. A boy and a girl, I think, possibly brother and sister. They will have to organise themselves not to turn up at exactly the same time.

The lawn fails to get the message

The lawn mowing duo turned up on time today, weather-beaten and muscular in their matching green tee-shirts. I haven’t yet decided whether they are married or siblings. Heavy morning rain had ceased only seconds before. They must have a line to whoever or whatever turns the rain on and off. (The cats think this is me.)

The industrial, gas-powered machines were unloaded from the truck, one large green person took the front and one the back and it was done in a tenth of the time it would have taken me. I could just about still do it, but have reached the stage of breathlessness/ agonising boredom where I just don’t want to do it. A monthly visit from The Green People is my only luxury.

They will not be back now till March, when the grass officially starts growing again. The grass has now, since it is November, officially stopped growing. Unfortunately nobody has told the grass. After the Green People left last month it was so made up, so overjoyed to have been mown by professionals, that it put on a spurt of growth. I have a feeling another spurt will follow their November visit. So under a carpet of snow, that bright green grass will be growing and growing…

But then, I’m not the one who will be doing the first cut next spring. Yay!

I have decided I don’t like my lady vet

I used to like the vet, when he was an eastern European chap with an accent you could cut with a knife. I don’t think he was Russian – because would Russian vets be allowed to come over here? – just sounded for all the world like one of those meercats in the TV ads. But he has gone. I went in one day to discover he had gone, for good, to France. He has taken all his cats, and his dogs, so he can’t be coming back. Indeed, why would you come back, here? I wouldn’t come back here if I had a chance to go somewhere else: no, not for all the tea in China.

But the lady we have instead – well, she is a lady, for a start. And she’s not him. She has an accent but not the same accent. She’s large, she has a tattoo and a brusque manner and I can’t bring myself to trust her. She talks to me like some generic, probably senile, Old Person, some tiresome Member of the Public; whereas he – I felt, anyway – actually seemed to be talking to me. I got the feeling he saw me as unpredictable and scarily odd: everybody seems to react to me like that – so be grateful that I am blogging rather than turning up on your street corner or lurking by the swings in the park. But occasionally amusing. And he didn’t make the mistake of thinking I was daft.

Really, it must be genetic. Why is it still easier to trust a man even though, throughout my life at any rate, the men I have known (in any detail) have proven themselves crueller, more devious, more judgmental and less supportive than women? No wonder we remain unemancipated.

But still, I think I’ll bite the bullet and try out (gasp!) another surgery altogether.

I think bread may be causing my IBS

I ate an experimental sandwich at lunch time and yes, the agony has returned. I am writing to distract myself from it. Think I will go and make myself a hot water bottle and distract myself still further by watching a really dreadful Christmas movie and knitting yet another dishcloth.


On the one and only occasion I attempted to test the air pressure in my own car tyres, I let all the air out and had to phone a friend to rescue me. He was scathing. Ever since then, the testing of tyre air pressures has been, to use one of my mother’s favourite phrases, ‘One of my phobias’.

‘One of my phobias’ means, for both of us, not so much ‘I am too terrified to attempt this under any circumstances’ as ‘I don’t intend to do this unpleasant thing EVER and you might as well abandon all hope of persuading me’.

So yesterday I popped in to the garage. They usually check my tyres for me for free of charge knowing I’ll come to them for everything else as well, even though I now live an hour and a half’s drive away. It was just as well I went this time. The kindly garage men discovered that whereas three of my tyres contained around the usual 30 whatevers  the fourth was down to 10 whatevers. This suggested a puncture but they couldn’t find one.  In spite of being stacked out with work, they found someone to take the tyre off, and there was a nail hiding sneakily inside the rim.

They gave me a long description of the exact technique they would use to mend the tyre – pulling something or other through something or other else and neatly snipping off the ends whereupon the mended section would wear in to the substance of the tyre… and this would be far less expensive than ripping the stupid thing off and stuffing another one on, as I had suggested. When bewildered, upset, bored or tired I find myself drawn to the Nuclear Option.

Until the day I left my husband I had never filled a car with petrol. Putting petrol in a car was One of my phobias, just as stairs, hospitals and an ever growing list of other things are of my mother’s. I didn’t know how a petrol pump worked and dreaded being observed by that forbidding lady in the glass booth as I peered at the instructions and tried to figure out what to do. I dreaded a queue of angry (male) motorists forming a line behind me. I dreaded the panic which was bound to overtake me if they started tut-tutting and hooting.

So I left my husband, who was no doubt relieved to get rid of me, with a car so full of cardboard boxes that I couldn’t see out of the back window. And part way to my destination the car started bleating that it needed petrol so, One of my phobias or not One of my phobias, I had to pull in at a petrol station and fill it. And yes, I did get it wrong. And yes, I did panic. And yes, the forbidding lady in the glass booth did stare at me.

You learn quickly and hugely when you are first on your own: how to fill cars with petrol; how to change light bulbs in spite of not knowing what to turn off first; how to describe what’s wrong with your car to a garage mechanic in spite of not knowing the vocabulary; how to find your way to the Civic Amenity Centre, a species of miniature, enclosed, Mad Max, post-apocalyptic landscape you never even imagined existed; how to prise out a broken plastic lawnmower blade with a kitchen knife and force another one on in its place… the list goes on and on. And yet after all these years of fending for myself I still feel deeply uncomfortable in  ‘male’ environments such as garages and Civic Amenity Centres (town rubbish tips). And this is true however nice the actual men who inhabit these spaces are. I grew up before Women’s Lib had really taken hold, and that may be why; a younger woman would wonder what on Earth I was talking about. Do you know, I was reading Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch in the days leading up to my wedding. She laid out for me in forensic detail all the reasons I shouldn’t be getting married – and I still did.

Faced with garage personnel I find myself simpering, talking too much and making unfunny jokes. It’s a performance, I know it is, I can’t see the point of it yet I can’t seem to stop it. And then there’s the waiting. Cars take such a long, long time to fix. The garage does now have a shiny new coffee machine, I notice. Their previous model would spit out red-hot, watery coffee that smelled and tasted of engine oil, yet I felt compelled to get cup after cup of the stuff and sip it because it was so awful. Why was that?

Then there are the framed posters. You know how you find yourself drawn to anything printed when you’re waiting for a long time? I read the framed poster with the tiny print about correct and incorrect number plates, with diagrams. The correct plates are marked with green ticks, the incorrect ones with red crosses. I also read from top to bottom the one about tyre tread thicknesses and the various gauges used to measure these for the purposes of MOT testing…

Maybe a magazine? As always it was a choice between every single issue ever published of What Car? and a lone celebrity gossip magazine. Most people seemed to have plumped for celebrity gossip because the magazine was wrinkled and dog-eared. I learned that Kerry-somebody-famous had just divorced or separated from her third husband and that Colleen-somebody-famous was pregnant again. There she was in a skimpy bikini revealing her Baby Bump. I find this bewildering and I have to say a little distasteful. Why would you want to combine a bikini with a Bump and publish a picture of it in a magazine? Memories of my mother expecting – it must have been – my youngest sister. She wore a long smock to cover the bump, with a huge silly bow at the neck. Maternity smocks always seemed to have either this bow or another similar device to draw the eye away from the Bump. And over that, if coats were needed, a long, special, maternity swing coat. Expectant ladies looked Blooming in those days, not Bumpy.

What puzzles me even more is why, when I never leave the house without one paperback, usually two, or a paperback and my Kindle in case of unforeseen delays, I feel magnetically drawn whatever other stuff is lying around or stuck on the walls. I do believe I would have picked up one of those What Car? magazines rather than open my half-finished Brick Lane.

As far as the tip’s concerned, no problem with reading matter there. You just need to get into and out of them as quickly as possible because there are always queues of other cars behind you, and the smell is appalling. Until recently I would struggle up the steps to the various skips myself, heaving whatever giant bags of rubble or garden waste I needed to get rid of. Then I would take a deep breath, trying not to look anxious, and summon all my strength for the manhandling of each sack to shoulder height and the flinging of it over the rim of the skip. Until recently, the Waste Disposal Operatives would stand around watching me wearing the same look of sardonic amusement that the woman in the glass booth at the petrol station used to wear:

…and here comes the cabaret!

But on my latest visit, for some reason I forgot the act and allowed myself to hesitate by the open boot of my car, looking vulnerable, feeble and watery-eyed. More like the way I felt. At once a Waste Disposal Operative with hair like a labradoodle and a great bushy beard walked over and offered to help me.

This is maybe a lesson I should have learned earlier.