Wad some po’or…….

The incomparable Mr Burns did remark that it would be interesting if we could see ourselves as others see us.

It would, and, also, quite alarming.

This morning, being Friday, is recycling day at the edge of the pavement.  Round here, by order, you are not allowed to put your rubbish out on the borders of your curtilage, (which you probably never knew you had until you read the legal document that says which is yours and which is next door) until six of the clock in the PM.  Otherwise, continues this jolly directive from the council, you can be hauled up before the beak and fined for littering even though your assorted rubbish has not laid bag upon the public highway but is still constrained within the confines of the borders of your property including adjoining land.

So, naturally, everyone puts their stuff out round about five, until we get to the summer, when it will appear about eleven at night because the neighbour who you take the clue from that it is recycling day, has gone on holiday for a fortnight.

I always try to get every last tin, newspaper, bit of cardboard and so on, out, so I can begin a new fortnight with nice empty bags.

It’s practically a recipe for a happy life in my book, beginning a fortnight with empty bags.  So, late on Thursday I am to be found scuttling round the house collecting rubbish.  I like to go to bed knowing all is clear, and sleep soundly.

Would that the OH did the same. On a different page entirely, he manages to secrete the recyclable and leave it for me to find early in the AM in little piles all over the kitchen. One pile beside the stove of a squished egg box and some tin wrappers.  On the sink a baked bean tin and its lid.  On the washing machine a beer can and a low alcohol beer can and assorted bits of paper.

It was really frosty this morning; the minute I got out of bed my hair stood on end.  So I popped my work-out leggings, which have seen better days, on top of my pyjama shorts and my scruffy, quite small, bed jacket on top.

In the kitchen, faced with the non-arrival of the bin men yet, piles of recyclable rubbish and a very frosty drive I methought me (because I can wake up quite posh) of dear old Ted next door.  Ted remembered it was recycling day just as he had got into bed and then went on to his drive with the big red box, tripped and spent most of the night on the drive fallen over in his pyjamas in the cold.  I never knew and still feel guilty that I did not somehow know he was lying on his drive a few feet away.  So accordingly, I got the first jacket out of the cupboard, the one with the overtight sleeves and the slightly overtight body which nearly zips up if you breathe out, collected the rubbish and headed for the end of my curtilage.

Which is when, in a barrage of cheery ‘good mornings’ I discovered passers-by, the lady walking her dog and  the folk at the bus stop, see me as the endlessly cheerful lady who does the books.

So I smiled (thank goodness I had brushed my teeth) said ‘Good morning,’ back.  Recycled and scuttled off indoors with my genuine bed hair, fat arms sticking out sideways, ankle gap between the slippers and the ancient leggings and a bed jacket sticking out under the zipped-up stomach.

I believe I still have sufficient glamour to require make-up, working out, new clothes and all the rest of it.  Thanks to the giftie. all I now need is pyjama trousers that actually cover my legs.  Though I should have known, I had to provide a driving licence photograph earlier this week. The OH kept taking a photograph of this old lady.  Horrors! ’Twas I, apparently, bag lady on the kerb, smiling at the nice humans.

The only saving grace in all of this is that old people (like me) wake up early and have poor memories, so with any luck the shame and notoriety will have worn off by this afternoon.

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Read all about it.

I wish I could say I’d planned my life and then carried out the plan.  This is one mode of operation that life coaches are awfully keen on, though the minute anyone says ‘life coach’ I immediately wonder why they haven’t got a proper job.

The truth is that most of the best things that have happened in my life have arisen like hair from a plughole and nothing I had planned at all.

The lockdown library is a case in point.

It started almost a year ago like this:

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The big river retailer announced it had better things to do in a global pandemic than deliver books, all the libraries shut and I remembered a friend saying that where she lived it was common practice to leave a book you no longer wanted on a wall for someone else to enjoy.

The OH consulted the WHO website to find out how to do this without transmitting diseases and I took the lovely little aluminium green house staging table that we had spent the weekend cleaning and reconstructing out to the front drive, which was still under construction.  I anchored a leg into the drive, so it was safe and strong, ascended the loft ladder in search of books, cleared the drawer of plastic sandwich bags and made a notice for the back of the table.  Then I posted the result on local social media to spread the idea and took the books inside for the night.

Whereupon the table was stolen.  Someone wrenched it from its moorings, leaving a leg half way along the pavement.

I was sad, because that table was one of the first things I bought when we got married and had a garden.  It helped to grow a lot of food when we were poor.  Many a tomato sandwich started on that table.

Undeterred, I put out the books on various garden tables including the one the builders were using for their tea.

A couple of months later I was on to a little trolley on wheels, designed to be a kitchen cart, I think. That was slightly easier, though I did have to carry it over the uneven crazy paving, wishing every time I’d gone for sane paving.  This lasted a couple of months until the first wheel dropped off.  So I propped it up on the end of the drive with a brick.

When I got to one wheel and three bricks, it was time to think again.

So I threw caution to the snow that was whistling in the winter wind and invested in a proper agricultural cart.

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Taa daa!

The now utterly wheel-less previous cart is up there at one end, the middle has become the children’s, how-to and travel section.

At the back of the cart I now place another box.

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A lady whom I have chatted to frequently requested jigsaws for her elderly parents.  The knitting patterns that are in there were a donation which I have augmented with various craft books and what you might term women’s interest items.

The bucket is treat-sized bars, each in a little sealy bag from my show store.  There was already quite a lot of chick lit, now there’s choclit.  I started this in the third week of January, usually the worst week for suicides.

The drive, as you can see is finished.  There’s a metal eye cemented into the drive, the cart is padlocked to the chain that goes through it and there’s a brick to stop it rolling back down.

Passers-by love the library.  Every morning when I put the cart out I am greeted by cheerful good mornings from numerous walkers, riders, wheel chair users and anyone else going past at the time.  Occasionally people knock at the door to ask the rules and are thrilled to find there are no rules except the first one, to disinfect the plastic bag at home and wait 72 hours before retrieving the book. I quarantine all donations I intercept, but cannot prevent someone taking a book which has just been left.  Early on I realised I was giving away picture books.  I buy three new sets of ten for ten pounds from a cut price store online about once a month. A few weeks ago, looking out of my front bedroom window I saw a little girl skipping and hopping along the pavement with a new book in a bag.  I am on the way, walking, to the hospital up the hill, quite a few medical staff who pass this way claim a bit of escapism for work breaks.

I get lovely donations too.  It is heartening to see classic novels going in and out.  Good writing is still enjoyed.

It says on the notice that the library is there because of demand. If there is ever a week when no one takes a book or leaves a book I’ll stop but that hasn’t happened yet.

It probably helps that my house is on the way to the local Marks and Spencer’s food outlet garage.  People pop down there for milk and a paper and something for lunch and return with a book to read.

There’s a girl whose engineer father is out of work, she leaves her baby story books for other children, as well as taking books and always walks taller on the way back.

I know there are lockdown libraries in many places.  Local residents helping each other has been one of the gifts of Covid.

It’s just a very good way to pass the time, is reading, but you know that.

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The gift.

I distinctly recall, when I was three years old deciding that I would never give my mother the satisfaction of seeing me cry.  I never did and now my emotions are locked down tighter than a ship of nuns in pirate-ridden seas.

Now you might say that I am a severely damaged individual.  Maybe so. I am, nevertheless, an individual who can function in most circumstances.

Going to pieces is never very helpful, neither is breaking down in floods of tears, stumping around or throwing a wobbly.  At the end of all of that you find yourself in exactly the same position but, additionally, upset.

In the latest film by the neighbour, James Bond rides a motorbike up a wall with never a hair out of place.

Savoir faire, that’s the fella. How does JB acquire his?  Well, first he went to public school, I think, as good a training as you could get anywhere.  I went to a posh girl’s school where you payed hockey in all weathers in your little divided shorts which enabled you to watch your knees going first blue, then purple then glowing red, just before your legs fell off.  Some folk gave in slightly and could be found snivelling in corners.  Everyone dreaded the year with the terrifying teacher when we were eight.  She could fire mental arithmetic questions at the speed of light on a Friday morning and was quite likely to stand you in a stress position if you got three in a row wrong.  Everyone knew you were not in the kindergarten with the modelling clay and your little box of counters now, sunshine!  Oh no!  Gym outside in the rain in your underwear, rush back inside at the double for some hemming which had better be invisible or else!  Colouring in was exactly inside the line and nowhere else and completely even.  Twenty-four little girls had a year of terror and I had a walk in the park because my mother was worse.  Much much worse.  I was not expecting life to be easy and was not disappointed.  By eight I had developed a character like rusty iron and could crack jokes under any circumstances.  I was also very subversive.  I was James Bond in training.

It was, of course, all very well for me but others have not had my massive advantages, chief of which was the knowledge that if I hadn’t been adopted, I’d have been sent to Australia as slave labour, so that everything subsequently could be viewed as a lucky escape.,

In the present circumstances, of the inconvenience of a global pandemic, those of us who have previously enjoyed less than rosy lives surrounded by admiring loved ones, with an enormous salary, frequent holidays in the best hotels round the world, the perfect, face, figure, lifestyle, companions and everything just ticketty boo, are at an enormous advantage. We are not expecting much if any of that, so when it gets taken away we are not just OK with it, we are exactly the same.

If you did have all or some of that, this is the best opportunity you may ever have to develop some resilience.

Resilience is the name of the game.  Resilience is the attribute that enables perseverance.  How many times did James Bond fall off the scooter before he got up the wall?  The crucial thing was not the falling off, it was the getting back on again.

I sometimes see, walking past my house, a lady who I know lives several doors up.  She walks with a stick, having been run over on this busy main road, which now has speed bumps, thanks to her accident.

She walks with a stick.

To that you can reply: Oh dear how awful! Or you can see that:  She walks.

Do you remember Stephen Hawking, the theoretical physicist?   What’s the first thing you remember about him?  The second is that he was still here despite the wheelchair, still teaching despite not being able to talk, still making television programmes many years after a diagnosis which would have caused others to give up.  He was resilient and it was his resilience that enabled him to do all the subsequent things.

Resilience is a life skill which can only be developed in adversity.  The ability to get up and make the best of the day when yesterday was awful is the foundation of resilience.

Optimism feeds it.  You cannot know what is ahead but if you anticipate something terrible and react to it before it happens and then it does happen, you’ve made yourself suffer twice. Something wonderful may be just round the corner but you won’t know until you get there.  You do have to go there, but only you can decide to go cheerfully. You can be glum if you like and then, when you’ve got there, find you’ve inflicted unnecessary misery on yourself.

The great thing about resilience is that the more you practice it the better you get at it.

This ground hog day in which we find ourselves is the most perfect training for developing resilience.  We do not know what will happen next.  The situation is at once, very stressful and very boring.  We are thrown back on our own resources.  No one is coming to our rescue.  All measures may be ineffective in the long run.  There is no true end in sight.  Death may be just around the corner.

Absolutely perfect!

We have the time and the quiet to look inside ourselves and find the will to survive.  We have another day and another to learn to put a cheerful face on things.  We can all round us see those who are worse off.  Think not?  You could be going through this in a refugee camp, some people are.  If you are reading this on an electronic device by definition you are one of the lucky ones.  Smile because you either haven’t got it yet or you have and you have survived.

I don’t know why I’m telling you, I correspond by email with enough readers to know that readers of this blog are mostly survivors of their own lives.  And well done if you are.

This is life skills practice.  You and I cannot just do this, we can do this in style with a smile and probably even crack a joke as well.

Frank, Dean and Bing all sang You either have or you haven’t got style.  This is our chance, you and I, to polish up our style.  It’s more than a chance, it’s a gift. Day after day ride that bike up that wall until we can do it without a hair out of place and a smile. (I’m going for a laconic grin and one eyebrow slightly raised, what about you?)

My savoir has never been more faire dear, hand me the top hat and the cane, I’m practising to come out of this dancing!

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Up, up and away!

The OH discovered a video on social meja of a young lady, probably about 19 or 20, expressing her frustration. ‘Nobody understands!’  she wailed, stamping around what looked like the kitchen, ‘I neeeed to go clubbing!’

Quite so.  My heart, of course went out to her while my soul, in sympathy, wailed to the tune of the current restrictions.  Here are some of mine:

I need to go free diving in the sea to 100 feet with my back-up team to ensure I come to no harm, or sharks. I saw a picture in a magazine once, interestingly taken from below, of the long slim diver with the massive flippers, going up, up, out of the dark bit into the light with the long legs in the massive flippers, powering with strength and freedom to the surface.

I neeeed those legs.

The chances of skydiving are not good at present.  I may well wish to jump out at a thousand feet with nine other people to make interesting and artistic shapes in the beautiful blue sky but it cannot be done.  Because of social distancing there is no way we could touch hands to make the star, or feet to make the outward explosion, we cannot stack or breakaway, or even free fall in tandem.  It’s a right pity, it is.

I have always wanted to be part of the see-how-many-people-can-fit-in-a-telephone-box thingy.  Wouldn’t it be hilarious?  Just ten of us, suitably plastered, in swim wear, or better still, really smashed, in the nude, I bet it’s never been done.  I neeeed to do it.  On some holiday destination island with a lot of clubs and drunks.  Epic!

Meanwhile, back at the suburban dwelling all alone, other frustrations are mounting.  Why does the computer only decide to update itself when you are tired and want to go to bed, exactly then? Installing 1 of 15 updates, do not switch me off or I will never go back on again and you’ll be really isolated.  If you do anything other than sit there watching the little spinning thing go round and round, I will break and you’ll never be able to watch videos of cats, or roller skating tortoises again.  Update half a percent complete, fifty more minutes of this boredom to go and if your head drops and you fall asleep on the keyboard I will break forever.  And if you order a new one online the delivery man will hurl it in the porch and you’ll have to spend the rest of your life on the phone to a call centre trying to prove you didn’t break it to get a free one for someone you want to impress and are hoping still fancies you even though you haven’t seen them for eleven months.  Update three and a quarter percent complete, switch off and your life is soooo  ova!  I’m all you’ve got now and don’t I know it!

And when tomorrow you switch on the second screen will suggest, so ungrammatically that ‘I cannot log in. I forgot my password.’  I have forgotten my password dummy, it is not simple past tense, who gave you this power, you ungrammatical oaf!  I don’t require a password at all, I’m the only person here, look around, can you spot the crowd?  No, me neither!

Then there is clothing.  What are you wearing? (Hint, look down.)  Is it the all-day pyjama again?  Is it?  I haven’t worn a ring in nearly a year.  They don’t fit under nitrile gloves.  A bracelet? A brooch?  None of mine were chosen for their relevance to the legging.  I neeed to wear nice clothing almost as much as I neeeed to shovel chocolate in, after which, if we ever surface again I will neeeed bigger clothing.  Clothing manufacturers who have survived would be well advised to design and go into production with extra plus size diamond encrusted easy-wear jogging bottoms with matching cloth-of-gold waist scarves.  You heard it here first long before the long-unused previously thin-as-a-rake models emerge blinking in the sunshine to waddle off down the catwalks, turn, wait for their hips to catch up, and waddle back again

There is going to be a new world order, dictated by our neeeeds. We all neeed to attract a close up skin companion.  In pursuit of this the day will arrive when the huge humans that are left lumber outside, wearing only diamonds to scamper at, collide with and roll around on other left-over humans.  And I, the shortest, fattiest, least grammatical, will be the leader of them all and make a law that we all get freeee joggers, freeee diamonds and freeee chocolate.

Because I neeeed it and I bet you do too.*

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* Jane Laverick.com is not responsible for any similarities of opinions expressed to any  politician, or three-year-old.**

**They can stamp their own feet, I just don’t care!


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Snow day.

It is snowing.

If you live in bits of Canada, quite a lot of Sweden, the polar research lab in Antarctica, this is probably not very earth shattering news.

In the West Midlands of the UK, an extremely temperate zone, this is quite unusual.  It is not lying thickly but it’s enough to stop me putting the library out because the books wouldn’t  like it.

I have lived in various parts of the UK and it’s quite surprising what a difference location makes to snow in such a small island.  At school in the North East of England next to the sea, we learned about the modifying effects of the proximity of the sea on a nearby landmass.  I don’t recall going to the beach in the snow much, the North Sea being pretty chilly all year round.  It wasn’t too bad if you got all of you into the sea and swam, but paddling was likely to leave you with feet a different colour from the rest of you.  I did go to school, on the bus for five miles and then a half hour walk through a park in all weathers.  Snow days had not been invented.  Playtime in the snow, outside, was bracing.  Our school uniform was pleated short woollen skirts, which indoors would steam for a couple of lessons.  Going home, your thick tweed coat kept you insulated rather than warm.  It did snow reliably but it never lay on the roads, not that it mattered because not everyone had a car.

Leaving home at twenty one, I moved to Nottingham, in the middle of the country. After marrying we settled in a house in an elevated position, known as Mapperley Top.  The snow lay thickly for weeks.  Snow days had still not been invented, this teacher went to school in hail, rain, or shine but if it was very snowy the children were not allowed out to play, mainly because of the corridors.  These ran round the entire rectangular school on the inside, enabling the children to trample snow straight into the classrooms, though, as the corridors were glass roofed and full of holes, the corridors were always wet anyway.

When I left for motherhood the infant travelled by pram in the summer and sledge in the winter.  I drag a mean sledge, I do.  It’s one of my effortless abilities, along with sandcastle building, that has not been required much at all subsequent to its acquisition.

We moved to Aylesbury Vale, which is, as the name suggests, in a rift valley.  I did not live there long enough for much snow but the ground baked so hard in summer the only plants that I could grow successfully in the solid mud were roses.  The vale was a frost pocket.  My attempts to grow asparagus were thwarted by late frosts, which gave way just in time for the slugs to get going.

And here we are in the West Midlands.  It’s a bit Camelot-like, if you recall the song from the musical.  The snow does not lie upon the hillsides, the summers are balmy, the autumns are crisp and nothing lasts too long for boredom.  Here, at last, where the weather is well-behaved, we have entirely unneeded snow days.

Have we all got soft? (Yes.)  Is it global warming? (Maybe.)

My location does, of course, account for the paucity of snow in Shakespeare.  It’s a great plot device, is snow. The menace it lends to The Wind in The Willows is memorable. Oh the thick snow!  Oh the poor little creatures!  But Shakespeare lived in the next town to here and may well have visited the theatre which has now been replaced by a multi-storey carpark, which has never been shut to cars because of snow in thirty three years to my knowledge. On the other hand, if there had been so much snow he could not have arrived at the multi-story car park, in Theatre Street (yes it is really still called that), in his youth, he may have turned into a sledge manufacturer or some such instead.  Snow days, snow plays.

I did once visit the snow deliberately.  I went with school on a winter holiday to Switzerland.  I was rubbish. I discovered that if you fell over on your skis, the ski instructor, who was about eighteen and very good looking, even in a woolly hat, would come and pick you up.  Naturally I did not learn to ski though I was excellent at falling over.  My main interests were in keeping my legs away from the unlined tweed trousers inherited from my taller thinner cousin, with which I had been equipped and getting my hands on the packets of three cocktail cigarettes which were speedily removed from the hotel tea plates of each girl on the first night.

When I discovered my Mediterranean ancestry three years ago, the retro-active relief was massive.  I am not a wimp at all.  I am not designed to be a tall thin skier whizzing through the snow.  I am designed to be a short, fat, black-clad auntie, dragging a donkey up a hill in the sunshine.  Fortunately I don’t have to do that either.  Me and Shakespeare, we can just sit indoors, in our tights (I was going to do a work out) and write until the nasty snow stops.  If it does we’ll pop into Theatre Street and either watch a play or do some shopping, depending on the century and think about getting some folios out tomorrow, as long as it isn’t another snow day.

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Lurve and that.

The festival of St Valentine almost certainly had nothing at all to do with love.  It is a late adaptation of the pagan festival of Lupercalia in which half-clad, quarter-clad or not clad at all young men ran round Rome to ensure fertility. Prior to running around in the altogether, they had sacrificed a goat and cut the skin into strips, which they flicked people with, while they ran.  If they flicked a pregnant lady, this was supposed to be extremely lucky for the lady.  Less so for the goat.  This ancient festival belonging to a culture without little blue pills or antibiotics or organised ante-natal care, is the origin of the date, which was originally a couple of days, and its association with the colour red and lurve.  St Valentine, an early Christian martyr, got co-opted without his permission a few centuries afterwards.

The date has remained the same as the original.  As it is bushfire season on one hemisphere and black ice season on the other, it isn’t a bad time of year to consider what we really love,

I love having warm feet.  Cold feet are such a misery.  If you get into bed without a hot water bottle in the middle of winter and cannot get your feet warm, you cannot get to sleep.  If it’s that cold the blood will stay round your middle, keeping your digestion and your heart and your breathing going but leave your feet at the end of the bed there like solid blocks of ice.  I believe this to be a female thing.  If you, a very ignorant young male, fresh from your run round the streets of Rome wearing little, carried away on a wave of fertility, accidentally married a female impersonator, you’d know you had made a horrible mistake when you tentatively reached your sweaty feet down into the depths of the four poster to encounter more hot feet and a surprisingly deep voice in your ear going ‘Well, hello.’

Being female I like warm feet.  I am happiest with my feet when nature has warmed them with sunshine.  For this reason I do love sandals.  Not the Roman laced-up thick soled smelling of fish sauce variety, nor the flat as a pancake chafing thong between the toes kind of numerous cultures (honestly, who would invent footwear that can give you blisters between your toes, as well?)  No, I like the kind with heels and padded soles in white or gold.  I put sandals away for the winter but I do keep a pair out in the wardrobe that I can pop my head in to look at to remind me that summer is on the way eventually.

We probably don’t love our feet enough, poor things.  They carry you through life, including all the extra poundage most of us acquire round the middle when we stop running anywhere and get in a car instead.  My poor feet have broken toes that stick up.  The first was earned sliding across a newly polished school hall floor in heels.  The hairline fracture didn’t show up in the X-Ray, so I walked on with hope in my heart and high heeled shoes on my feet, until the bone set sticking up in the air.  The second broken toe was in the second lockdown when, still wearing sandals, like a fool, in November, I walked my bare feet into the open bed drawer and then didn’t go to A&E at all, in order not to fetch the virus home, hoping my swollen toe was just bruised.

If I have to wear socks and shoes I do love a new pair of socks but I am mean with them. Putting on a new pair is a flick to the wallet, even though socks do not cost that much.  Consequently I have a shoebox full of new socks which I occasionally open, look at, murmur with surprise about how nice the new socks are, then close the box, forcing my feet into the crunchy old socks, swivelling the holey bit round under the toe and pretending it isn’t there.  Know thyself.  Skinflint with socks, that’s me.

Recourse to the people we love the most, rather than the closest people, has been helpful during the current difficulties.

I do love Paul McCartney. Me and half the planet.  I modelled him as a doll, about thirty years ago.  He has the most perfect zygotic arch.  As I have told you endlessly here I saw the Beatles in 1963 at the Sunderland Empire.  The way Paul sprang onto the stage in the spring of his spring lives in my memory forever; he was the beautiful young troubadour, beloved of the gods and always will be, as far as I’m concerned.  You can still find him singing No More Lonely Nights online together with a bit of the film, which was really just a long pop video with  a plot about as discernible as most pop videos.  I reckon on the video he’s about the same age as the S&H is now, just coming into his forties. I think we will probably never meet, which is possibly just as well for him, as I have the urge to lick his face very thoroughly.  He has gone on record as saying people are tongue tied when they meet him, sadly I would not be, in any way whatsoever, and I believe it’s going to be some years before licking people’s faces at all is in any way acceptable as a greeting.

I also love Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoons.  He started them in the 1980s, the S&H grew up with them and finds them as birthday cards for me.  They are not political, which has given them great longevity, but are about the human condition, as seen by animals, which gives them permanence, as long as there are humans (a close run thing, currently) and animals, they are relevant.  At the start of lockdown, moving books in the house makeover, I came upon an early large book of them.  It got me through the first lockdown laughing, so when the second rolled around, I rowed up the big river retailer and found a couple of second-hand ones. As we slid into autumn and it became clear Christmas would not occur, I paddled further up the river and found a complete boxed set.  They were released in 2014 as a boxed set of three books for quite a bit of money. Uncaring I sent away, expecting something well-thumbed but they arrived plastic-wrapped and pristine.  Sock-like I have only read the first pair of volumes, so far.  I contacted the seller who found me another brand new one, which was the Christmas Present for the S&H, weighing like a brick and costing a fortune to send through the post but worth every penny.  The boxed set includes some letters of complaint. sent by readers to the original newspaper publisher, whining, woofing and barking about how sick Gary Larson is, which neatly make several points.  I do love the letters and the cartoons and I still have the third volume to come, along with about ten pairs of socks..

And, of course, I love writing.  Other pastimes have come and gone but writing in many guises is always there. I still feel happy when I think about the lady who was thrilled to discover she had been writing prose. I have written prose, poetry, plays, letters and had several years of notes to the milkman which were finely crafted miracles of hilarity and brevity.  Then the milkman retired and something was lost to the world.  I hope he kept them.  Post cards, missives, emails, love letters, I like writing.  I like writing with a pen, a brush nib, a fibre point, a calligraphy pen, a scalpel, a propelling pencil, a keyboard.  I like manual typewriters, electric typewriters, word processors and computer keyboards.  I do like painting, drawing, colouring and, of course sculpting.  I love sculpting.  I am currently sculpting and drawing a lot of cats.  I do love cats and miss not having one.  Once I am past assorted surgery and restored to fitness I’d love a cat.  Gardening is better with a cat.

But most of all I just love writing words.  I like writing funny words, sad words, thoughtful words, happy words, cheerful words and all the combinations of those you can think of.  I like waking in the morning with the words in my head ready to go on the paper, which happens more often than you can imagine.

I love writing words and you love reading them.  We are the perfect pair.  You can do it with all your clothes on and not a goat in sight. I can do it frequently in pyjamas currently, sometimes in work-out gear and occasionally in underwear, depending on when the words appear in my head, I have been known to rush in from the garden and do it in my wellies.

I love you being there, reading the words.  It’s great.  I love reading emails and correspond regularly with readers. This has been happening since I wrote for magazines.  I’ve done it myself on occasion.  When your life gets so desperate you just want to run away from it but can’t, it helps to write to someone who is always on your side but will never turn up to run their finger along the top of your bookcase and frown at the result.    It’s unconditional love, a very rare thing in anyone you’ve known face-to-face for some years but common among cats, who wouldn’t love humans at all if they knew how to work the tin opener themselves, and dogs who just love everything.

It’s love that makes the world go round.  (It isn’t really, it’s because the planets formed through spinning, powered by magnetic attraction and the need to run through the cosmos, flicking lesser heavenly bodies with bits of trailing firmament, but, you know.)

And we all love Tim Berners-Lee who gave us the www. so I could be here and you could click on Leave a Comment, just down there and tell me what you lurve.

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Recipes for difficult relatives.

Here we are in February, March is next (all the news, here, first.)

For some of us this means that we have been shut indoors for a year with our relatives.  How enchantingly easy has that been?  The joy of being shut up with those who will not shut up, is indescribable (though you know me, I’m going to have a go).

As so many will attest to, endlessly on social mee ja, proving that it’s not just your lot who can bore the pants off captive listeners, what can help a lot is a nice new recipe.  So here are mine.

Ursine surprise.

Ingredients.

One large brown bear, or polar bear depending on your colour scheme.

A double ended pick.

A large reinforced shovel.

Three medium fish (skin on).

A small shark net.

Three eggs.

Hedge clippings or fern fronds (to decorate).


Method.

Using the pick to break up the top soil hardened by the sun or the ice (depending where you are on the planet) and the shovel when the ground becomes workable, dig a substantial pit in the back garden.  Take two of the fish (skin on) and lay them on their sides in the base of the hole. When the bear has climbed down into the hole after the fish, place the net over the hole.  Separate the eggs and use the yolks to seal one of the shark nets round the edges of the hole. Place the fern fronds or hedge clipping decoratively on the net and lay the third fish in the centre of the net.

To serve.

Stroll indoors and say, casually, ‘Have you noticed there’s a fish on the lawn?’

Stand back and enjoy the screams.

Serves up to two relatives right.


A galaxy far far away.

Ingredients.

One small frilly apron.

A black hole.

A bottle of champagne.

A box of fairly heavy champagne truffles.

A very attractive champagne glass, ideally with a gold rim.

Egg whites left over from the previous recipe.

Icing sugar.

Method.

Before cooking, rearrange the fridge shelves moving the top shelf as high as it will go to make sufficient space in the centre of the fridge to stand the open champagne bottle upright.

Open the champagne, mmm nice.

Install the black hole at the back of the fridge, centre shelf.

Have another swig.  Yum.

Whisk the egg white until frothy.  Place about a tablespoon of sieved icing sugar on an anti-bacterial chopping board.  Dip the rim of the glass into the egg white and immediately into the icing sugar.

Place the decorated champagne glass with the far edge of the base just into the black hole, keeping it balanced in the known universe with a champagne truffle, if necessary melting the truffle by dipping it in hot water, or licking it until it goes soft enough to stick to the fridge shelf and balance the glass upright.

After another quick swig, oh yes, and another for luck, woo hoo, place the bottle upright in the middle of the fridge and carefully close the door.

Take all your clothes off, put the apron back on.

To serve

Say ‘Oh darling, come and see what I’ve got for you, hoo.  The champagne’s in the fridge.’  As your spouse arrives in the kitchen, let them reach for the bottle, then bend over to retrieve the cork from the floor, murmuring ‘A glass, get the glass!’

Remain bent until the whooshing noises have stopped. Get dressed, make a cup of tea and finish off the truffles.

Flight of fancy.

Ingredients.

A medium shark net with enclosed base.

A twenty inch stainless steel spring.

Nine heavy duty bulldog clips.

A cardboard box.

Grey paint.

A ladder long enough to reach the gutter.

100 grams self raising flour.

Two small eggs.

100 grams caster sugar.

75 grams butter (softened.)

Chocolate chips. .

To serve, extra flour, 50 ml. room temperature water.

Method.

Cream the butter and the sugar, beat in the eggs, fold in the flour and chocolate chips.  Place in a 180 degree oven for 25 minutes in a greased cake tin or bun tins.  Remove to a wire rack, allow to cool.

Take the cardboard and cut to the rough shape of a paving slab, block of concrete, brick paviours or whatever your driveway is made of outside the front door.  Make the fake surface with edges deep enough to contain the spring.  Paint grey or to match the drive.

Up the ladder fix the shark net to the edge of the gutter with the bulldog clips.

Put the ladder away carefully, because accidents can happen..

Make up a stiff flour and water paste in a saucer.  Compress the spring flat under the cardboard paving slab, just outside the front door, sticking the edges all around with the flour and water paste, applied with a pastry brush.

Place the cake or buns gently on the far side of the fake paving slab, so as not to set off the spring, but just out of reach, walk back round the slab into the hall.

To serve.

Ring the doorbell.

Well, that’s it for now.  For dessert, I suggest you just enjoy the silence.

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Flouting authority.

Me.

I want to.

This feeling has been growing for some time.

I am normally a very well-behaved citizen.  As a child I was the one picking items up off the floor in the shop and putting them on the shelf, neatly.  I did it so often it was almost reverse shoplifting.  Woolworths on a Saturday afternoon was a positive tidy-fest.  As for the racks of saucepans, well! You wouldn’t think you could ruffle up saucepans, would you? But they managed it.  After I’d sorted Woolworths out I used to pop along to the library and put the books back on the shelves.

Part of the reason my mother was hard as nails was because I always did what I was told and she was looking for a fight.  The only matter worth fighting over was the foot exercises.  Once a month to correct my flat feet we went to a hospital in Sunderland where I stood with my feet in two metal dishes with water in them and plates on the bottom that electricity ran through.  These singularly failed to raise my dropped arches or electrocute me.  At home I was supposed to pick up pencils with my feet and I just wouldn’t do it.  My mother would scatter pencils on the floor and I would sit among them sulking, and once she left the room to find my father and complain, I would read a book.

But that was it. At school a goody two shoes.  A smarmy little git.

As a student, diligent, as I was living at home it was scarcely any different to school, the only time I stayed late was when we were doing the magazine.

As a teacher every lesson had a plan, which was carried out.

As a housewife floors were scrubbed by me, washing was washed, vegetables were grown, budgets were written in a tall thin accounting book and added up each week.

But now.

Well.

If one more politician looking important stands behind a lectern on a podium, or, indeed, off one and tells me what to do, I shall shout ‘Eala!  Nese!’* and other Anglo Saxon or Old English utterances.

Little Hitlers in Supermarkets telling me in a jumped-up fashion to: stand there!  earn themselves a short sharp ‘Hweat eart pu?’**

Anybody in a queue, pointing, will get a brief, ‘afeallan begenas!’***

The OH being negative or rude can. naturally, ‘faran from.’**** and people at the door asking if I want any trees lopping down, when I plainly have a big hole in the middle of the lawn, can just, ‘geleoran!’*****

As for delivery agents, hurling broken and shredded parcels at the porch and shouting that I should ‘Have a nice day,’ over their shoulders as they scarper, they can aernan from****** as fast as they like.

My goodness, I’ve hardly got started, isn’t this satisfying?  I may have missed a vocation scaling the barricades with a flag, or at least a duster on a stick.

There is something deeply edifying about a language that involves a lot of guttural noises, especially one that evolved, having settled in, to tell Viking raiders where to get off. You can just imagine Saxon women shouting it at a pointy hatted hostile legging it with a pig under each arm.

Oh yes, the time for stronger language has arrived coulie (certainly.)

Ic grete ealle mine araedan.  Leof hlifian!  (I greet all my readers.  Friend rise up!)

But in particular to those who are using the current situation to enrich themselves while impoverishing others, to the sellers of tiny bottles of sanitiser for a fiver a go,  To people buying vast quantities of sub-standard PPE from dubious places and selling it to hospitals for twenty times the price.  To hotels charging exorbitant prices to people needing to isolate. To anyone hiking up the prices of basics.  To all profiteers I say (and this is the one you’ve been waiting for) ge-strinian riht feor onweg.  GE-STRINIAN RIHT FEOR ONWEG.*******.

Oh yes.

Well, I feel better for that.

Fancy a cup of tea?

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If you must…

* No!  Alas!

**Who do you think you are?

***Decay, thane.

****Go away.

*****Leave

******Run away

******* Procreate right far away.

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The mirroring of days.

I opened my eyes and may have heard a slight bang outside.  Perhaps it was a car going over a speed bump, mayhap a front door banging, to me there was total comparability to the bin men hurling stuff around.

I rose to the vertical like a porpoise surfacing.  Friday!  It must be Friday!

In one movement so smooth as to be indistinguishable from a grass snake emerging from a clump of daisies, I slid from bed, slid open the drawer where my workout clothes reside and slid into my leggings, leaping down the stairs three at a time, my hands pushing my arms up on the bannisters, my feet barely touching.

Scarcely a moment later the hall cupboard door was open and I was in my white jacket, zipped, through doors and into the utility,  The two bags on the recycling box flung aside. the box, full of newspapers, pulled in one smooth movement from under the sink, the door unlocked, my feet thrust into my wellies as simultaneously I elevated the box, opened the door, sprinted into the damp side passage and up the slope of the drive to arrive on the corner and look up and down the street.

Not a bin man to be seen.

Not a sniff of a lorry.

And, strangely, no sign of any recycling boxes or bags on the end of any neighbour’s drive.

So I popped the box on the drive and ran back inside to find out A) what time it was and B) what day it might be.

You’d be amazed how difficult it is to find out what day of the week it is.

Eventually I ran upstairs and interrogated my alarm clock, which is radio controlled and has numerous buttons. At last I discerned the interesting icon: TH.

TH, it’s TH!  Bin day is FRI!

I had just trampled the mud off my wellies all over the new bedroom carpet for nothing because it’s only TH and not FRI at all.

So I walked back down stairs, retrieved the box, shut the door, took off my wellies, found a watch and took my pulse.

60 per minute.

Well that’s OK, I’m fit.

Stupid but fit.

So I made a cup of tea, emptied the dishwasher and then came upstairs and wrote this.

Last March various television channels ran Groundhog Day on an endless loop, seemingly and I thought ho ho ho.

And I still haven’t learned to ice sculpt or play Chopin.

Nor, apparently, to put the recycling out on the right day.

Der.

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The OH says that the speeding up of the appearances of new Covid variants means that we need to upgrade our Personal Protection Equipment.  The same paper disposable mask worn until it falls to bits is no longer quite good enough.  You don’t need to go full hazmat suit yet but a bit of an upgrade would not go amiss.  Put PPE into your search engine and see what comes up and have a bit of it.  I have disinfected the shopping from the start but I am now disinfecting anything coming through the door and I think I’ll give the library a squirt before I put it out today.

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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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