The blight of crowds.

My last posting may have been a bit gloomy, sorry about that.  My intention at the start of the global beleaguerment was to cheer up all readers and send them out to the fray, or indeed back inside to the fray, full to the brim with party spirit and good humour, not least because it bolsters your immune system.

So far, so good.  Not one reader lost yet, though there have been some close calls in the skirmishes.

However, perusal of the television news, which mostly I avoid, reveals that for the third time in a week the forces of Lora Norder have been sent in to break up parties of several hundred people, having, well, parties.

It is not my intention to deprive the honest reader of fun, in fact, fun is our aim, chums.  A cup of tea and a five minute chuckle were the founding features of this literary effort, for sure.

However, (and this is the second however in one column, so you can tell how bad things are) deriving comfort from several hundred people laden with germs is a really bad plan at present..  You, me the kids and the dog, OK. You, me the kids, the dog, the auntie with the ill-fitting teeth, borderline. You, me the kids, the dog, the auntie with the ill-fitting teeth, the girl from two doors down who could really do with a bigger bra, her boyfriend (him what hangs around the back of the shops smoking those strange-smelling cigarettes), her mother who is bored at home, their neighbour who came to complain about the noise, the dustbin man who wondered if we had forgotten to put out last week’s fish skin (all right, this is fiction) and the vicar, sensing a captive congregation; not OK.

In case you have forgotten in the looong lockdown how ghastly a crowd of people can be, I consider it my job, nay duty, to remind you.

I have never been to a football match. 

I know, amazing isn’t it?  And there was you, thinking I’m all sporty (welcome new reader!).

People who have been to football matches where there are so many hundreds of people all at once they have to have them on stacked steps called terraces, as if they were growing rice in mountainous places, (from this you may deduce my familiarity with the game) have vouchsafed this information to me.  It is difficult, apparently, during the game, to leave your seat to find the facilities to relieve your bladder.  The singular terrace is a long beast.  During the game, known as a match (get me, all the lingo) people are inclined to express their support for one team, or, indeed, the other, by shouting encouragement.  Multiple cries of ‘What ho!’ and similar uttered at once, do not favour the enthusiast trying to make his way to the relief station, working his way along the row, murmuring, ‘excuse me, excuse me, if you could just move your programme out of the way, no Lohengrin is the one in the swan boat, excuse me, can you just.. with your knees, thank you,’ etc etc.  Yet enthusiasts are inclined to ingest large quantities of liquid drink, despite the subsequent difficulties this may cause.

This on its own is enough for anyone equipped with a prostate to stay at home.  However, (third one, watch out) I have been reliably informed that the desperate espying an open pocket, bag or receptacle on a lower terrace may surreptitiously relieve themselves into the said receptacle.  At a distance. I am assuming this would only be one terrace difference in height. I don’t know.  I would need some statistics on pressure and trajectory to expand my motif to two terraces or further.  Anyway, if the popcorn in your bucket suddenly yellows, contemplate littering, would be my advice.

Stadium Cleaners On Furlough is a happy-go-lucky television comedy, whose arrival on our screens is only a matter of time, I feel.

Then there is the cinema audience, packed in row upon row in an enclosed space.  My very good friend (a lie) and reasonably close neighbour (slightly true) Daniel Craig, has seen fit to delay the outing of his latest oeuvre as James Bond until we can all crowd into the cinemas again.  I have been to cinemas to support the neighbour but I am not fond of the venue.  This could be quite a lot because I am so undertall and shrinking.  Unless I sit on the end of the row all I will gain a passing familiarity with are the ears of the man in front.  You’d be amazed how many unwashed ear backs are detectable in low light.  Really.  Like a beacon of filth, dear. When did you last wash behind your ears? And yet you hook your mask on there regularly.

We’ll have a paragraph until you get back from the sink. 

Welcome back, oh clean-eared reader.

Then there is cinematic coughing, always at a junction crucial to the plot, usually when the detective tells his dog who the murderer is.  Or when Hugh Grant mutters to someone that he loves them.  To be fair to the actor, sotto voce declarations are such a part of his stock in trade, when he gives his order at the deli counter in the supermarket he probably leaves George the Spam arranger, 51, single, with a sudden sweaty flush under his nibbled thumbnails.

And of course, cinematic heating.  The minute the lights go down the heating goes off. Why do they do that?  Are they just trying to save on the electric?  Is there a theory that crowds make their own heat?  I am never warm enough, no matter how packed the coughing crowd, and I can’t put my coat on because of course, I am sitting on it to raise me to neck level of the man in front, now regularly snogging his companion who is, obviously, unaware of the state of his lugs.

Then there are the sales.  I have never understood, bargain lover though I am, those who would queue all night in sleeping bags to be first to run in to grab the limited edition Black Watch Tartan deep fat fryer.  You know how cold it must be on the pavement at night; then, what with all the talking, I am quite convinced I’d finally drop off at five only to wake with pavement hair at half past eleven in front of an empty shop, with a half-eaten biscuit, two Euros and a cup of yellow popcorn parked in my carpet slippers.

At mass musical interludes in fields the lack of sanitary provision is positively celebrated.  Mud is fifty percent earth and fifty percent unnamed moisture.  People slide in it.

Are you still missing crowds?

If so, recall the parties of your youth.  Mine were in the late sixties and early seventies, I know!  I was present, generally sober and never ingested substances.  This massive advantage enables me to recall the actuality with clarity.

Parties thrown by teenage and early twenties boys were hopeless.  In the earnest wish to attract the woman of their dreams or several, and unaware, and with no way of finding out what these mythical creatures drank, the usual provision was a Party Seven or a bottle of sherry per twenty expected female guests.  The general assumption was that women ate cold pizza and one thread of tinsel on the parental mantelpiece was decoration adequate to make the females sufficiently insane with happiness as to cause them to remove all their clothes upon entering the room.  Rolling up the hearthrug and sticking it behind the sofa was also fabled to cause dancing and a pile of coats in the spare bedroom to unfailingly generate an orgy.  The only saving grace of such crowds was that they usually numbered round about five, as the host, dreaming the impossible dream, had omitted to invite anyone other than the girl from the pub, her friend and his brother.

By the time we got to student level there were many guests and gate crashers but  similar provision of food and drink.  By late twenties ‘punch’ arrived.  I recall a punch composed mainly of rubbing alcohol at a hospital party.  I thought the girl passed out on the mortuary trolley (a useful adjunct to staff parties in that venue) was dead but they gave her intravenous fructose and she revived, surprisingly.

Finally, if you still need persuading, let us consider family gatherings.  Fresh as we are from the festivities during which so many were horrified to discover who opined themselves to be in one’s own bubble, little brushwork is required to complete the picture.  Christmas food is basically designed to add, generously, to the store of the planet’s greenhouse gases.  There’s probably farts filled with roast mammoth up there in the Kuiper Belt.  How much overstuffed flatulence can one sofa contain?  Sparklingly witty conversation?  In a family?  And the cost to the host who gets what, exactly?  A novelty tea towel?  A failed trifle?  A bottle of cut-price-supermarket Cabernet Soapington?

There remains in our heads the fond illusion that if there are crowds, there must be something to see.  That in a cluster of many decibels witty conversation will ensue and we will be able to hear it.  That among so many with unwashed ears lurks our one true amour and that we can find them as we wander through the throng with our nose peg and popcorn bucket (there’s a sock in there now, look).  Or that we will emerge triumphant, knowing the secret of the universe, dragging a one door Rolls Royce with only four wheels and an engine missing for five hundred quid, or a real fur coat with the bear still in  it and hungry, on the never never, over three years, if we last that long.

Stay at home with me.  You can emit flatus all you like and I have no idea what your ears are like (however, if you didn’t earlier on……….) and we will laugh intermittently (however, (last one) I do reserve the right to be miserable occasionally) for the duration.

If we do have to emerge socially at the end I’d suggest one neighbour glimpsed fleetingly through the gaps in the hedge at first, working up to a really brief exchange with the postman but only on a Tuesday and I’d still shun politicians.*

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*As a general principle, really.

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Assorted things.

There have been some rollercoaster days of late, it’s been that sort of week.  I read in the newspaper that people are complaining of boredom.  I never seem to get the chance.

Midweek I got a very helpful letter from the hospital.  The consultant had perused the results of my radioactive drink and CT scan and had discovered that I have a hernia.  These can come about as the result of surgery and when I looked it up online, my symptoms were textbook.  As the problems began two years ago straight after surgery and have continued unchanged since and I knew there had been problems with the surgery, goodness knows why it has taken so long to diagnose.  I was very sceptical of the diagnosis of  ‘just’ adhesions, especially when the chap doing the colonoscopy said it was very challenging and suggested the problem could be cured by drinking kefir.  I kept wondering if I was going bananas and then having another dreadful day in the bathroom gasping in pain and trying to tell myself I was imagining it.  But no, a hernia, which is part of your guts poking through a hole in the muscle wall, explains things perfectly.  I feel, at last, two years after surgery, that maybe things will start to get better. I have a face to face meeting with the consultant on March 31st.  You shouldn’t wish your life away.  I am, at least God Speed the Plough (other constellations are available) until the end of March.  A hernia is fixable by surgery, you poke the loop of intestine back through the hole and sew up the hole in the muscle.  How a hole got into the muscle of a person who has worked out muscles every day for twenty years, during routine surgery, is another question.  Which I may decide not to ask in the interests of positivity and gratitude that I am being seen at all in such troubled times.

I rang the private hospital where I am going to have my cataracts done and was told they are not doing them any more at present.  The whole hospital and three more private medical facilities in the county have been turned over to care of NHS cancer patients.  I think this is excellent and should have been done sooner.  Our local NHS hospital up the road has only two wards not stuffed full of Covid patients currently, poor souls.  Separating them and the cancer patients sounds like a wonderful, life-saving idea.

Mid week the OH took delivery of a small car to get him to and from work in the Mega lab.  It is only six miles away but he will be travelling to and fro early and late.  I was not keen about him leaving the lab in clothes in which he will have been testing thousands of Covid samples and getting into my car, which I would then get into to do the shopping.  The car he has chosen is a demonstration model which will be maintained by the garage who sold it to him, who will buy it back off him at the end.  Since the makeover we have two bathrooms; I hope one each will lessen the chances of me getting Covid from his work.  Time will tell.

The OH has been trying to cut down a lot on drinking, consequently has been so short of temper that when I appeared downstairs in the middle of him watching a film on TV he attacked me violently verbally, at length.  I will not use the language here but I did write it down.  Today has been a very silent day.  How will someone who has spent every night for fifty years in the pub cope with ten hour shifts and no pub at age 70 this year?  How will he manage to take all the pills that keep him going every day if he is working, when he usually forgets them here when it is the only thing he has to remember? What will happen when another employee annoys him and he explodes?

It took a couple of hours to stop my heart hammering enough to be able to go to sleep.  I kept telling myself that there are children shut in with abusive parents, who are in a worse position than I am.

Can you remember when life was easy, or fun?

I’ve had ten years with a person suffering increasingly from an addiction, five with a demented person, two broken arms, cancer, a hernia and three significant deaths.  Oh it’s all going terribly well.

Currently what helps me is watching videos online of Buddhist monks making beautiful sand mandalas. When they are finished they enjoy them for a moment and then sweep them away while chanting ancient chants about the universe.  You will find these videos easily with a search engine.

Hold in your heart the knowledge that the only constant in the universe is impermanence.

I believe we are going through the birth pangs of a new beginning for humanity.  They are the start of better values, including caring for everyone, knowing that the world is one, and living and being present in every moment of your life, as it changes and passes.  Even the bad ones.

Of course, some religions and some wise people, not necessarily the same thing, have been saying this for a long time.

Tomorrow I will be sufficiently recovered to go back to making little pieces of transitory art, in cardboard and sending them to people I miss.

How are you getting on at learning the art of life?

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Ikebana

One of my many hobbies is card making.  I’m doing it quite a lot at present: there seems little point in adding to doll stock until either I get my eyes sorted out, or my surgery done so I could actually do a show, or shows recommence.

Meanwhile making a card to send cardboard love to someone you cannot see at present, makes sense to me.  If you are not a wordsmith, or have no idea what to say in a letter, the handmade card says it for you. You enjoy making it and spend happy time doing so, the recipient enjoys receiving it because they know you care and it isn’t a bill coming through the post, which, in January, is a kindness.

Having progressed from just cutting out something pretty with a die cutting machine and sticking it on a card, I am now telling stories with my pictures, so I am looking for dies that cut out ingredients.  My current favourite pack contains the Ikebana dies designed by Pete Hughes for Sizzix.

Ikebana, of which more later, is a very particular type of Japanese flower arranging.  It is a disciplined and very exacting art form.  I have seen some arrangements in this style at shows, which would leave you in no doubt at all that this is art, making a statement about the universe.

The Sizzix dies cut out seven different vases or containers, numerous branches, flowers and flower centres.  There are pictorial suggestions on the front of the packet and, having coloured all the elements, they can be stuck on to a flat card and you’d be fairly certain to make a lovely card front with little effort.

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Being a miniaturist by nature, I naturally got ambitious.  I wondered, where had the flower arranger found the branches? Had she picked them from a garden by the sea?

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This is a DL size card. The view outside is a little watercolour painting, I did a few.

Then I got miniaturised, as usual and wondered how much of a story I could fit into a four inch square card.

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The flower arranger here is a student, as you can tell by the pile of books, the vase in this picture is cut down from the die cut, my flowers throughout are vellum. The window is from a small set of window dies that were inexpensively found on a general retailer’s site, but any grid, cut down, would do. The pole above the window is rolled paper, the curtains are rice paper, the bench below is paper creased five times to make a square tube when the ends overlap.

The entire card front is elevated in this way:

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Card larger than four inches on three sides is folded to make a false card front.  The view through the window, which doesn’t have to be your own painting but could be as simple as a picture cut out of a magazine, is stuck to the original card back.  In folding the top ‘wall’ cut a space for the light to illuminate the view..  This particular card tells the story of the naughty cat.

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This is not my first encounter with Ikebana.  That came in the sixties.

My mother, lady of leisure, similar in sound (but with a Geordie twang) to Margot in the Good Life, attended flower arranging classes weekly.

Competition for the good graces of the teacher was fierce.  The poor woman had to have a rota, receiving more invitations to tea and coffee than could be fitted into a week.

At first the flower arranging was quite simple.  Get vase, get flowers, ram one into the other.  Break for Christmas, posh gift for flower arranging teacher, slight rivalry with my mother’s sister, who was very artistic and a better baker.  She made small cakes of such beauty it was a pity to eat them, though we always managed.  My mother was more big potatoes and gravy by nature.

In term two the learning became more serious.  Vicious devices for forcing flowers to do what you wanted were purchased.  Blocks of green foam for shoving stems of innocent freesias into were superseded by a thing that was a cross between a metal hairbrush and a hand grenade that lurked in the base of a special container. My mother came home from classes muttering about ‘S’ waves, asymmetry, triangular arrangements in big vases and the need to visit country houses to see what they were up to.

She purchased a pair of secateurs so violent generals probably would think twice about allowing them on to an army tank range. They were short, blue, had little curved blades that went ‘ting’ in the sunshine and could cut through oak branches, if necessary. My father vanished upstairs to do some drawing if the blue secateurs came out.

Term three, Ikebana.  Oh yes.

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My mother went into the kitchen with a special flat, expensive vase, some poor flowers, some branches, some wire for wiring the flowers on to the branches if they didn’t want to go, the violent secateurs and her lower lip set in a line that could have cracked concrete.

When she emerged to plonk the damp result on top of the expensive wood television my father, resigned husband, who used to go diving in jellyfish for recreation (really), didn’t hesitate for a heartbeat to lavish on the praise.  I followed suit, knowing instinctively that his parenting skills encapsulated survival information.

The Ikebana went on for further terms, requiring ever more specialised vases and bits of rock. My father, lifelong antiques collector, won gold stars for supplying antique vases that were not only suitable for Ikebana; being unique and ancient, they could not be copied by other arrangers.  They turned my mother, with more ambition than artistry into the Lone Arranger, and she could not have rode into the sunset any happier.  She could lend the antique vases to the teacher for demonstrations and the other students could eat her dust and queue up to invite the teacher for coffee.

However the real components of Ikebana- the silence, contemplation, line, form, minimalism and general artistry of using natural materials to create ephemeral art and thus contemplate the universe, whilst listening to one note played very quietly on an instrument so archaic it’s probably strung with pterosaur guts, can be recreated nicely with this set of dies.

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I have inherited the blue secateurs, they are padlocked in a metal cabinet in case of invasion from outer space.

If your Iki is Bana than mine, I’d love a picture, just click the link below.

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Amazing.

What an amazement.

The OH saw an advert for people  with lab experience to help with the national effort to defeat the virus, thinking he was going to be an occasional volunteer for something.  There were forms to fill in in plenty.  Telephone interviews. A several hour test in lab procedure at an nearby university which was so hush hush the Uni’s security team had no idea where it was.

When he arrived there were 13 people in their twenties and him, 70 this year. He did his usual, barged in and didn’t read all the instructions, listened to a couple of lectures and came home thinking he’d just had an interesting evening out.

But as of February he will be in paid employment in one of the two mega labs in the country.

I am alarmed and delighted.  I caught Rubella off a microscope slide he was using at evening classes in the 1970s.  So I really, really hope the tidy up after each shift is awfully good.

It is shift work, which is an interesting proposition for someone who usually surfaces at twelve, being surprised at how late it is.  It is physical and standing, which is an interesting proposition for someone with such bad gout he can’t walk if he doesn’t take the pill at four in the afternoon. He most recently had elbow gout and had to take a medicine that was fatal if taken incorrectly.  He usually starts the first can at nine in the evening, when he might be working.

He has to produce his certificates next to his face in a conference call.  These are for exams passed forty years ago, or, to put it another way, three houses and a major, new roof makeover.  He still hasn’t found the photographs he was looking for three weeks ago.  He got up in the loft, looked around slightly, came back down and reported no certificates.

So we both got up and went bag by old suitcase through the detritus of forty odd years of stuff in lofts.  He banged his head three times, got cobwebs in his hair and swore a lot, but after an hour and a half, found the box and the certificates.

Then there was half an hour online and by phone with the S&H to get the pictures working on his computer.  He can’t get the pictures and the sound so he’ll phone while simultaneously waving the papers online.

After a year of never venturing out without gloves and spraying everything that comes into the  house, I am nervous.

But the difference in the OH is beyond belief.  I am sure that I’ve told you he is the man who sorted Legionnaires Disease in the 70s and 80s.  All alone for six years he pushed it round a microscope slide until he invented a way of showing it up so it could be recognised.  Then he taught labs round the world what to do.  All while his parents were living off us as his mother had Alzheimer’s, which in those days, you had to explain.  And all on the pay of a lab technician.

This time he’ll be testing thousands of people to find out who has and hasn’t got it, whilst having difficulty walking and on the pay grade of an assistant.

They are so keen to have him they emailed him from this country at five in the morning to ask why he hadn’t signed an electronic form yet.

And that shows that government agencies actually are working round the clock.

The difference in the OH is extraordinary.  He’s not a hopeless person sitting in a chair drinking. He’s a man on a mission.

All of which goes to show ever so many things.  But the most significant I believe, is the importance in life of having a purpose.

Everybody needs a reason to get up in the morning.  For nearly a year mine has been to get that library out on the drive.

What is your purpose?

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The Gratitude List 2.

It was lovely to hear from Shirley, whose relatives used to splurge out on socks and gloves,  but decided this year, due to the current circumstances, to make the heart wrenching decision to downgrade from socks to soap. What sort of gift tag would you write to go with that?

‘This is soap, dear.  You take the wrapper off first.  Then you put water on your hand (warm is best) and rub it on the soap. Then you rub your hand on your face.  Next you splash water on your face and then dry it on a towel. Gets rid of the soot round your nose lovely.  We use it up to twice a week without embarrassment.’

I have met Shirley on several occasions at the Min.  As well as being comely and a cracking miniaturist, she is noticeable clean, not the sort you would pass soap to under cover of darkness, murmuring, ‘feel better,’ as you melt into the shadows.

Nevertheless Shirley is putting soap on her gratitude list.

By my reckoning it is 55 years since soap was aspirational.  In the mid Sixties my mother had the man, the house, the flower arranging classes and the dinner parties.  What she lacked was soap.

Yes, indeed for a couple of Christmases she was upgraded by gift from the cleaning edge of a block of green Fairy to a selection of multi-coloured gift soaps in an artfully undecorated wooden (so authentic) box of guest soaps.

Always referred to in the plural, the guest soaps were aspirational because of the implication that you had a) many guests and b) a special place for them to wee.  We had passed a landmark in history from ‘indoor toilet’ to ‘extra indoor toilet’.

Oh the choices!  Shall I go in the upstairs toilet in the morning and save the downstairs one for the afternoon,or just go ad hoc as the mood takes me?

Not only did the guests have their own toilet, they had their own towels, toilet paper, and, of course, their own plural soaps, displayed on the windowsill in the box, so that guests emerging, relieved, could say, ‘Oh I see you have those soaps!’ Giving them the opportunity to show that they were absolutely au fait with what was de rigeur.  (Soap, in case you’ve forgotten.)

The following Christmas my mother was gifted two boxes of soaps from two different gifters.  There was a lesser box, which was square and had, I think, nine soaps in it.  But the superior gifter had stretched to the top of the range box (afterwards referred to as the big oblong box) containing soaps too numerous to be enumerated (possibly twelve).

We should probably join Shirley in gratitude for soap at present.  My grandchildren know how to wash their hands with soap while singing ‘Happy Birthday to you’ in Welsh, twice.

Right now the virus situation is not hopeless as long as we are not soapless.

I could have called this

The Joy Of Soap but you might have got the wrong idea.  What are you grateful for in January?  Click the link below, where it says ‘Leave a comment’ and let me know.

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Class of 2020 End of Year exam.

Settle down, settle down.  No talking at the back there.  Now everyone is just as keen as you are to graduate to 2021, but first there is the small matter of the year end exam before you can go.  We’ll have no copying, write on two sides of the paper only and if it’s not legible that will be an automatic fail.  There are plenty of places to repeat the year if you haven’t been paying attention.  You have an hour to complete this, answer all the questions and there are no multiple choice, so don’t think you’re getting away with a stab in the dark.

Time starts now.

1.  Why is there nothing on TV?

2.  What have you done with the Q19F/expenses duplicate forms I handed to you as you were going out for a smoke by the dustbins?

3.  Shouldn’t you be wearing a different bra with that jumper?

4.  We ask that you please wait patiently in the queue until our operators, who are all busy helping people more important than you, have time to deal with your enquiry.  You are number

95

in the queue.

5.  Was it you who washed the glue down the sink to recycle the pot?

6.  How much is left in the current account?

7.  Are you going to do the washing up before you go to bed? You’re not just going to leave it to fester overnight, are you?

8.   Aren’t you the person I saw last March in Tesco with two trolleys full of toilet rolls?

9.  Explain social distancing to a two year old.

10.  Did you eat the last chocolate biscuit?

11.  Can you find the end on this roll of clear sticky tape?

12. Illustrate the differences between the GNP of any EU member state and any independent country in the Southern Hemisphere pre and post 2020 with at least two examples of exports and imports, excluding handbags.

13. Why are there paw prints in the butter?

14. What made you think that hairstyle was a good idea?

15. Compare and contrast the pre2019 fishing quotas of Costa del Sol and Wolverhampton.

16. Please have the proof that you did not receive your package ready when our operator asks for it.

17. What time do you call this?

18. Explain, with diagrams, the GDP regulations for any former EU member post-Brexit.

19. If you’re going shopping could you get me something nice and different for tea?

20. Multiply the R rate by the incubation period and subtract the  tier in a five mile radius, expressing your answer as a factor of annoyance.

21. Are you not going to bother getting dressed at all today, then?

22. What do you think, should I go to A&E with this cut finger and risk getting something, or just let it fall off?  Look, I think you can see the bone but I don’t want to look, what do you think? Hmm?

23. Write a hundred word appreciation of any politician who has not been sacked yet.

24. So, what are your holiday plans for 2021?

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The Gratitude list. 1

As the world slides as inexorably into 2021 as a politician down a lie chute, hundreds of a reader has emailed to ask: How do you remain so cheerful in the face of all this?  Are you just stupid, or what?

Well, Doris, as all this that I’ve been in the face of and. lets be frank here, frequently round the other end of, daily, for ten years or so, has been slightly ameliorised, after each awfulness by a simple technique called The Gratitude List.

To remain optimistic, other than simply not having a full grasp on the facts, a positive attitude is maintained by a nightly listing of all that has been good in the day and finding at least one small something to be grateful for.  On occasion this has been a simple giving of thanks, that wiping one’s nose in a public place did not cause a bogey to be dragged from a nostril on to a cheek, or worse, round by the ear to get tangled in the hair.  Yes, some days have been pretty awful.

Talking of which, face masks!  Yes, dear, under that mask you can have anything.  In the same way that waterfall cardigans have been a gift to the wide-arsed, a mask has been the best chum of any post-menopausal sweetheart with a handlebar moustache.  Sixteen with spots, eighteen with acne, any age you like with terrible teeth.  Which, as the young substitute dentist was keen to reassure me, and charge large amounts for the advice, cannot be fixed, currently, for fear of endangering the head to toe plastic-clad dentist.  So that’s everyone’s teeth having a holiday, then.  Let’s be grateful for that, and, of course, what a saving on lipstick, blemish concealer and carefully matched foundation.  I could have thread-thin pale dead lips, rampant upper lip cellulite, a chin receding well past last Thursday and blotchy orange and green tinged skin and you will never know.

This surrounding the only known Christmas when you could really and truly do what you liked.  Mince pies and sherry at half past eleven in the morning in your pyjamas while watching chat show reruns and falling asleep until three o clock with your head back snoring?  And not one single elderly auntie to tut?  No relative you don’t like giving you socks you don’t want?  Magic!  And no stupid crackers.  What a waste of money they are!

Either of these can go on your list tonight.

Long ago, when my widowed father-in-law remarried, although I did not of course, know the bride’s family, as I’d only just met them, there was a female of a certain hat present who looked suspicious from the off.  The hat, a type very favoured in the fifties, but appearing not only new, in the eighties, but bought for the occasion, was self-important in and of itself.  It was a maroon velvet in a twirled-up turban style, perched on a iron grey, rigid perm, but with lateral movement on each shake of the head.  The owner of the hat and head was seated alone at the end of a pew, which was odd.

At the time I was very occupied in being mother to the S&H who was seven.  So I may have missed the warning signs.  After the ‘I do’s’ the bride and groom shuffled into a side room to do signing, shutting the door loudly behind them and, without further ado, the hat owner hurled herself into the aisle and began singing, vibrato, without accompaniment ‘This is my lovely daaaay (wobble hat, wobble hat) This is the day I shall remember the day I’m dyyyyyyying (wobble hat wobble hat)  Yooooooooooo can’t take this away etc etc etc

And then she sat down equally abruptly and the bride and groom, who had escaped to another room, out of earshot, returned.

I did not laugh until they had done the photos and we were back in our own car.

And it is that which I am endlessly grateful for.  Neither did I wet myself or choke.

Such a mercy.

Because there were several school serious services where I had to be lead out, snotty and choking, in fact it was a regular occurrence and I’m sure I have told you that I was drummed out of the Brownies for laughing at a flying up ceremony.  At this momentous occasion, the Brownie, about to be Girl Guided, ran round the plastic grass on which was placed the cardboard toadstool (ours had actual sticking plasters), flapping her arms and then into the circle of girl guides, giving a little jump over the arms of the guides that were linked and lowered for the jumping.

I laughed so much I became hysterical and had to be lead outside into the fresh air, for my own good.

Oh yes, the gratitude list.  Just the thing to send you off to sleep laughing.

More later but feel free to email by clicking the link below and tell me yours.

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Christmas

Happy Christmas, dear reader.  How are you and how are you doing?

As usual the night before Christmas, sleeping badly in case I slept in, I was up at six o clock and looked out of my big south facing window at the clear skies.  For the first time since the rare conjunction of planets was broadcast, which may, or may not have been the guiding star at the original Christmas, I could see, even with my cataracts, all those heavenly bodies,clear and bright.  A plane blinked its way across the horizon.

My neighbour’s daughter came home from Switzerland but, because of the scarcity of flights, will have to leave on Boxing day morning, without seeing her mother, who, flights permitting, can only return from Russia on Boxing day night.  My neighbour looked exhausted.  He is a doctor doing 72 hour shifts at the hospital.

Earlier in the afternoon a community library user knocked at the door with a bunch of flowers for me.  Her father, who had gone into hospital for a blood transfusion for leukaemia had caught Covid 19 in hospital and died and she was trying to do positive things.

What does it all mean?

I thought at six this morning of the first Christmas morning.  Of course they didn’t know it was the first Christmas morning. It too was full of inconvenience. The Ancient Roman civilisation, built on possessions, counting your worth by what you own and slavery, in which lesser people did not have freedom but worked for nothing so rich people could have more, was in the process of doing an audit of what they owned.  As there was no electronic counting then, you had to go back to where you were born to get counted.  The known world was one of inequality; fear and uncertainty stalked the land.

And then there was a star and the birth of hope, though it didn’t look like a revolution at the time.  At the time it looked like a great deal of inconvenience, with nobody where they wanted to be.  There was a lot of bossing around by officialdom as they tried to get everyone counted.

It took four hundred years before the overthrow of the Roman Empire.  Those who would change everything had to meet in secret, they had to work away in quiet.

The outcome of the revolution didn’t look all that promising either, initially.  There is Saxon poetry about the sadness of the abandoned great Roman buildings.

Nevertheless, the conditions changed to something more equitable, to better chances for everyone.

Change is the only constant in the universe.  It is underway.

You have to get up at six to see the new configuration of lights in the sky.  It is the dawn of hope.

The OH has applied to dust off his skills with a microscope slide and has an interview early in January, the day after his X-ray to find out what’s wrong with his lungs.

You and me, in all of this, we sit tight.

Around us the universe rotates.  This five minutes we spend together, with a cup of tea (I’ve just finished mine, which was a wonder, usually after an hour of writing I’m surprised to see a cold cup) are out of this world.  We belong to the communications revolution, I type something in the middle of chilly England, five minutes later on the coast of Australia, or the edges of South Africa, or half an inch over on a globe, you’re reading it.

Everything will be all right in the end.  It’s hard to see it now, but if you get up early enough, the signs are there.  This looks like the dark of the year because we are only just past the solstice but the change has begun.

Writing early on Christmas morning, I have written from darkness into sunshine.

Happy Christmas, dear reader.

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The art of card theatre.

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Here we are at Christmas 2020.

I have been making my own Christmas cards for over thirty years, I usually make about 70.  This year I thought I should pull out all the stops, I have been talking, over the year, to quite a few people who will be isolated at Christmas so I decided to provide a bit of entertainment.

Accordingly I have made 75 cardboard theatres, complete with scenery, actors and a musical play.

I can’t write the whole play here for copyright reasons.  In order to make it easy for recipients to sing the songs, I had to write new words to well-known Christmas songs, some of which are still in copyright.  If you have every wondered why we get such appalling novelty songs surfacing at this time of year, it’s because writers and performers are well aware of the boomerang tendencies of Christmas songs, endlessly making happy returns bearing royalties.

But I can write you the introductory poem, here it is.

Be your own impresario and save live theatre!

In a year that sounded glossy and rounded,
But turned out to come at a cost
Some of the things we were able to save (and get delivered)
And some of the things were just lost.

Working from home, for so many, alone
To find what you could and could not, on your own
Going back to the Net for just one more look
At those giving advice from in front of their books,

Has not been the most cheering and comforting thing.
Along with bingeing on Netflix, while snacking on pasta
And cleaning out cupboards
To make time go faster.

We have all discovered, empirically so,
How society is fragile, as is our sanity.
A tiny wee virus has made it all go
And what we all need is the rest of humanity.

People in stadiums, visiting shows
Trips to the library, round and about
Holidays, seeing family, somewhere to go
Out there and back again – just a day out.

The year that we’ve had has horribly veered
’Twix boredom and panic
And very long queues, and terrible fear
And nothing at all and everything manic. (It’s been ghastly.)

At the end of the Year’s a traditional time
For singing and dancing and having some fun,
Nights at the theatre, shows, pantomime
And this year we need it as never before –
But how when the audience numbers just one
And the actors and staff are all shut indoors?

I have the answer! I’ve made it for you!
It comes under the heading of major self-help
Save the live theatre!  Rescue the arts!
Read on to find out how to do it yourself
How to stage it, produce it and act all the parts.


And then I continue with the play, the songs and the actors, who are card characters on acetate sticks and can be manipulated from the wings.

I finish:

Happy Christmas, impresario, and the newest of new years to you.

It’s a long road that has no turning, though it’s certainly possible to have gone right round the bend without even realising it.  I hope your road ahead is filled with better things.  I hope my road ahead is filled with better things.  I hope this was all enjoyable and there’s much less of a performance to come next year.

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If you are a recipient, I hope you enjoyed this.  If you are one of the many hundreds of readers of JaneLaverick.com who didn’t get one, feel free to copy.  It’s just a box, decorated, with slots in the side and some cardboard cut-outs.  The curtains are from www.lablanche.eu as are some of the characters, the others are Tim Holtz paper dolls.  You can find clear acetate on packaging, look in your recycling bin.  There were a lot of clowns in my theatre, but you could cut a photo of your least favourite politician out of the paper, and stick them to a bit of cardboard; in many countries this year the roles have been pretty much interchangeable.

Happy Christmas to every loyal reader.  This year has, indeed, been a right performance.  Throughout JaneLaverick.com has continued, as it has for eleven years, except when I’m not well, or busy making theatres.  This is not an all-singing, home-dancing podcast, or an instructional video, it’s just me doing a bit of writing for you to read.

If your holiday does turn out to be a bit strange, there’s over a decade of largely cheerful writing here, any time of day or night.  Some descriptions of how I dealt with difficult times, a bit of poetry, a little show and tell of some very artistic people, a laugh, a joke and just a friend reaching out, are the ingredients of this blog. It’s just the things I enjoy, really.  If you’d like to pop over during the holidays I’ll be here, bring a cup of tea and a mince pie, let’s spend Christmas together!

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Everything comes……….

To he who waits, it’s a long road that has no turning, the only constant in the universe is change………..

Are you ready to hit me yet?*

Yes it has been a  very annoying year.  But on Tuesday it will be December.

December of 2020

This year has been a bit like those pre-adolescence years.  Do you remember waiting for something to happen while being bossed around by people you had lost all respect for, straining to see what everyone else was doing, and with a deep seated sense of complete and total inadequacy?  And these were what everyone was calling the happiest years of your life? Yeh, right, thanks.

I don’t for a minute think that as soon as the clock points to 2021, we’re in the clear.

In fact we’ve decided not to see the grandchildren, who I haven’t seen since last Christmas.  This is  a bit dreadful, for those of us who came from orphanages not to see the only real relatives you’ve got for over a year is awful.  But they are only little – how can I share the same infective airspace and not hug them?

I propose to mend the situation by a personal reversal of the calendar changes of 1750.

As you do.

The changes were suggested to deal with what was referred to in Parliament as ‘diverse inconveniences.’  Mostly that Europe and Scotland began a new year on January 1st but England began it on March 25th.  The tax year has got stuck and still follows the Julian calendar which was named after actual Julius Caesar, who instigated it.  The problem with this was the state of astronomy at the time which, rather like the maths of so many of us, made the length of a year more of a ‘figure in the region of’ than accurate.  Every now and then people would have to get up in the middle of the night or have Thursday on a Tuesday, no one had half a day off and the weekend hadn’t been invented.

To put the whole mess right eleven days were removed from the calendar in the following year, leading to riots by people who thought they had been robbed of eleven days and would at the very least prematurely age or miss their flight to Benidorm.  But eventually the system we have now, with a leap year extra day and the year beginning on January 1st everywhere, was adopted, after much muttering in the ranks.

But here Chez Jane I am suggesting we stick with the awful 2020 in our heads until pre-eighteenth century new year.

Then the people who are going to get Covid from three other households (or whatever the rules are when we get there) will have got it and recovered, or not.  A vaccine will be under way world wide and a real new year of hope and optimism can begin with the spring flowers, the eggs, the bunny rabbits, the return of the sun and people running through the meadow towards each other eating chocolate bars.

Locked down in the freezing cold, sneezing and wondering what you’ve got, with zero money because you spent it all making up for deficiencies and hips the size of a small county, is not the way to make a new beginning.

Waiting till the bad stuff is really over is the way to make a new beginning.

I should know, I have waited two years mainly in the bathroom, with intestinal adhesions.  By the time I get my eyes sorted I will have waited over a year with poor vision.  I waited eighteen months in a half-built house. I have waited ten years for the OH to acknowledge that he may have a problem.

I am good at waiting.

Waiting is not the easy option.  Gardeners are well disposed to wait.  No seed ever sprouted that was regularly dug up to see how it was doing.

I am going to wait out Christmas and old new year.  I am going to wait for a personal new year, at a date later to be announced, post vaccination.

Because everything comes to she who waits and the impatience cultivated by apps, the web, and the want it all and want it now mentality we have all been guilty of, has turned out to be the croc of fools gold I always thought it was.

Slow and steady wins the human race.

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* Now are you ready to hit me?


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