In Which Celia and Isobel Go for a Walk in Search of Bluebells

I have so many posts half composed in my head, but unwritten and unposted: stray cats, blogging v WhatsApp, Brexit (again), amazing books, homelessness, climate crisis, MasterB. You get the picture. Maybe in time. But tonight, as we come to the end of Easter weekend, and the sun is shining, the blossom is still blossoming, the air has a gentle, mellow air, quite at odds with the political climate, I want to write about yesterday’s walk in Surrey.

Above the town

Above the town

Farm building

Farm building

Lush

Lush

I was born in Surrey and grew up there. I took its hills, its green fields, its bluebell woods for granted. You still get to enjoy these things in Surrey when your parents aren’t stockbrokers.

Bluebells

Bluebells

In leaf

In leaf

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Keeping it Sane

It’s been a busy week and a productive one. No, I am not talking about Brexit, though a new extension has been granted by the long-suffering EU until October. It sounds a good amount of time, six whole months, but once you subtract the days the house isn’t sitting it’s more like three. Mark Francois has made an arse of himself (again) by making threats to the EU and reading poetry aloud very badly, yet some people think he should lead the Tory party. Hello? Theresa May, whose air miles must be enough to get her to the moon and back by now, returned to the house and made the same speech again. Is it obstinacy, lack of imagination, or a plan to just wear people down? She does an aggressive upward look, reminiscent of Princess Diana, across the floor of the house to anyone who dares contradict her. Whatever the question was, Brexit is not the answer. Tonight, when the news was on, I deliberately left the room to avoid seeing the Farago announcing his new Brexit party with Jacob Rees-Mogg’s sister Annunziata on side as a prospective candidate. Some huge percentage of the adult population says it is suffering from Brexit related stress and anxiety. Tell me about it. I wake up from dreams about it.
Anyway, it’s Friday night and time for a bit of a break, though I fully intend to watch Have I Got News For You at nine o’clock, and I have already listened to the News Quiz. It’s like a itch I can’t help scratching. As though Brexit anxiety wasn’t enough, I have been worried about MasterB for the last couple of days. He has been under the weather, sleeping hugely, not nagging me much to play, taking only a cursory interest in his food. This morning, before I went to work, I rang the vet practice and talked to one of the nurses, describing his symptoms. If she told me to keep a close eye on things once, she told me a dozen times. Being Chief Litter Tray Monitor, I am well versed in MasterB’s bowel movements. Normally his digestive system functions admirably well, just the odd pungent smell from his hind quarters when he is sitting beside me, or the popping sound of wind breaking in tiny bursts. So I was able to say that yesterday’s deposit was less solid than usual. Today’s was even less solid than yesterday’s, so it seems something has upset his tum. I’m hoping he’s on the mend now as he has just led me to the kitchen and had a few mouthfuls of the wet food in his bowl, and his interest in biscuits has definitely returned. So long as it’s nothing serious, a few days of restricted calories might be just what he needs to shift the stubborn superfluous 500g he’s carrying.

 

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New Toy

MasterB has a new toy. He likes it very much. It’s a gift from Octavia who read about it in a magazine at the vet surgery where she had taken the Grey Ninja for her annual check up. Normally Octavia would not read the magazines on offer, but she had forgotten her ‘phone. It’s a good thing I was sitting down when she told me: Octavia without her ‘phone? Unbelievable. I thought at the very least surgery would have been involved to achieve such a scenario.
It was a good outcome for the Grey Ninja and MasterB though as, in the said magazine, Octavia read about honeysuckle wood, an alternative to catnip, and something most cats love. As I said before, MasterB’s opinion was positive. It was also immediately evident.

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Finding my inner anorak

A couple of weeks ago on a gloriously sunny morning three of us joined a group of people on a platform at Ealing Broadway.
I don’t think I have been there before. We were given orange wristbands and then stood about, peering down the track, amid a buzz of happy chatter and an array of serious cameras.

On the platform

One of us was wearing an anorak, but it’s fair to say just being there our spiritual anoraks were on show.
For those of you not familiar with the term, an anorak is a lightweight waterproof jacket favoured by trainspotters. I’m presuming trainspotters exist the world over. If not, they are enthusiasts, usually male, who spend their free time on railway platforms noting the type and registration number of the trains arriving and leaving the station. They are not heroin addicts despite Danny Boyle’s celebrated film Trainspotting.

Like the term anorak, the film’s title has a wider meaning: people with a simple and often single-minded obsession with a single subject.
looking around we were surprised at the wide demographic represented. Some people had dressed up. We were going to ride on a 1930s tube train, one of the last journeys it will make on the network before new signalling makes it impossible.
These trains went out of service in the 1970s, I will have travelled on them on journeys across London, but by the time I came to live in the capital they were gone.

Later generations of underground trains shared some of the same features: the wooden floors like duckboards, the wooden panels, the hanging straps which look like upside down mini punchballs, the rounded profile, the red paint. All this brought on waves of memories.

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Ernie, Farewell

It was standing room only by the time we made it inside the crematorium chapel. We arrived quite early, there were just a few of us. Then more and more people began to arrive. There were hugs as we met old friends. So great to see Fred and Albert, who retired some years ago, Kevin, John, Marcio who I still work with regularly. The sun shone. Could it have been a more beautiful day?
But a day that was going to be hard for Paul, Ernie’s partner of nearly 60 years. When you think what attitudes to gay people were like when they met, you have to wonder what they went through. Paul is Irish and Catholic (that maybe was, as the service was led by an Anglican member of the clergy, a woman who knew both of them). Although the Irish Republic is today showing a more enlightened attitude to sexuality, so much so that Graham Norton, probably the Republic’s most famous gay export, has wondered if had the current climate prevailed when he was younger might he have stayed in his home country, traditionally homosexuality has been a particularly big taboo.
It’s weird isn’t it, the way people get so het up about homosexuality. I had a Christian upbringing. The main message was to love one another. I don’t recall sub-clauses about certain sexual orientation meant that edict shouldn’t apply.
Levititcus seems to be the favourite anti-gay quote for some homophobic Christians, but they seem quite able to ignore other instructions from the OT about behaviour. Continue reading

Poetry, Pain Thresholds, and Imaginary Bridges

Top of January’s High Spots is tonight’e event at the Royal Festival Hall when the shortlisted poets for the TS Eliot Prize will each read from their work for eight minutes. It was Celia who introduced me to this pleasure several years ago when she had a spare ticket. I think it may have been the first time I saw Simon Armitage perform live. Bliss.
Tonight there are about eight of us going and sitting together, meeting two more whose seats are waaaay behind ours, and almost certainly seeing Kate and Jane who like us are serial recidivists. I have only just realised that Nick Laird is one of the shortlisted poets. Delight. I saw him read at the Heaney Homeplace in February 2017, that magical weekend when Cousin’s friend Ann and I enjoyed three successive nights of poetry. Laird grew up around Cookstown, so not far from Bellaghy. Ann has since died from cancer which makes that weekend infinitely precious. There was a good local crowd, and I enjoyed a chat with him afterwards, learning that for a time he had lived near where my home is in South London. He was savage about Boris Johnson and the regeneration of the Elephant and Castle, so no wonder I warmed to him. I’ll have a quick gargle so I can whoop at the end of his set. Continue reading

Octavia is my Lab Rat

As someone who loves, and I mean loves, fairy lights the sheer range available in the pound shop in December was severe temptation. I was almost salivating. I had to get myself out and away before considerable damage was done to my pocket.
Now, in the cool light of January,my decorations down, cards undisplayed, but fairy lights still twinkling as they do here all winter, I found myself thinking of those lights again. I returned to the shop, imagining I might, in a more restrained, less Christmassy frame of mind, be able to choose wisely from the selection.
All gone.
We have moved onto St Valentine’s Day. So I could have bought heart shaped candles, various tacky objects in shades of red. No fairy lights. Perhaps it’s a blessing. But I am thinking that if they have the same wonderful array next year, all the friends to whom I give presents will get at least one string of lights for Christmas.
Meanwhile, Octavia made a fleeting return to the capital and we ate together on Sunday evening. She is my lab rat, or guinea pig if you prefer, when I am trialling new dishes on visitors. Unusually we ate at mine. This was because I was making soup and didn’t fancy carrying it around to her house. The chances of spillage which would have been messy, were too high. My experimental dish was a Freekeh salad. Now I have had Freekeh in a local restaurant but not been able to buy it. Apparently it sells out very quickly. So Lyn very kindly got some for me in Auckland, and then Celia managed to bag a packet which was part of my Christmas gift from her.
So now I am Freekeh rich, but with Brexit looming, I don’t think I’m going to be rich in much else. I am particularly worried about fresh veg as I eat a great deal of it. I might get by on home grown tomatoes in the summer, but there’s no chance of that in April.
Maybe by some miracle the MPs will put a stop to the madness and we can reboot. Brexit’s wounds are going to take a long, long time to heal, whether we leave or stay. The bitterness, the hatred, the anger the referendum threw up will leave scars.
I have just watched Brexit: the Uncivil War, a drama about the campaigns starring Benedict Cumberbatch. It left me thoughtful, and more than a tad depressed. I had seen part of it being filmed in 2018 and been told by one of the crew it was to air the night we left the EU. In that case, I hope I never see it, I replied. But we are still in the EU, and it has aired. Watching it on catch up I didn’t get the full complement of ads in the breaks (it was a Channel 4 production for anyone looking to find it) but I did get that it had been sponsored by Lexus, so presumably that was the type of buying power the anticipated audience was expected to have. Not I. Among the more ridiculous accusations levelled at remainers is the one that we are the metropolitan elite. Some of the poorest parts of London voted solidly to remain. My own neighbourhood among them. Apparently, and especially as I read the Guardian, I am also a member of the chattering classes, which perhaps I am, though not alas with any influence. The term was coined by Auberon Waugh whose politics were more than a bit extreme.
We are seeing the unedifying spectacle of MPs, journalists and others being racially abused; women having misogynistic comments hurled at them by a group of vociferous pro Leave protesters who gather outside the Palace of Westminster. How anyone hearing them could embrace a future where their views dominate is a mystery.
I don’t agree with Owen Jones about much, but when he says the right wing press and the language of hate and prejudice that adorn its front pages has much to answer for, he’s right. He didn’t mention the lies the Mail and the Express serve up on an almost daily basis. According to them, climate crisis is a lie, we are overrun with malign foreigners, the NHS is being bled dry by health tourists. All these stories have been shown to be false, but still they keep peddling them. It worries me that the newspaper proprietors push this trash, it worries me even more that people buy these newspapers and want to believe them. That is self-deception on a frightening scale.
But I can only take a little of Brexit at a time. It looks horribly like I shall be living in an ex EU country very soon. Any problems will be blamed on the EU which has become some sort of whipping boy for the right and far right. Any success, any minor survival, will be hailed as victory. And as I don’t want to see my country go down the pan, I and my fellow remainers will be doing our darnedest to make something positive out of this disaster, and not relying as the leavers seem to do on fairies at the bottom of the garden.
So expect recipes, pictures of MasterB, poetry, anything that distracts and keeps me sane while this lemming like race to destruction continues. Meanwhile, beneath the surface my legs will be paddling like billyoh.

Soup Season

What is it about the end of the year and the start January which suggests soup? It’s not just me; my neighbour Jolita has also got the soup bug. At a guess, it goes back to childhood and Mother making meals from festive leftovers. To be fair, I don’t remember any soup, but I do remember a nut bread she made based on a recipe in a copy of Family Circle someone had passed to us. Is Family Circle still going? We weren’t a magazine taking family, though the Radio Times was taken weekly, and I was a big fan of the Dandy before I reached double figures, then it was Jackie and Fab208 as often as I could get them, with very occasional forages into Rave before I graduated to Honey. Nowadays it’s the Guardian and magazines from various organisations I belong to or charities I support. Favour, the magazine for supporters Hearing dogs of the Deaf doesn’t feature many soup recipes. But then neither did the Dandy.

That said, for me soup generally begins with what I have in the fridge rather than a recipe. And this week I had some celeriac that needed using, lots of tomatoes, and some nice white bread that was past its best. So Monday’s soup was a version of ribollita which worked surprisingly well. Motivated, I moved onto tomato soup, with a pound of tomatoes and some other veg I already had. I found a recipe which became the base for my soup, but to my surprise it didn’t include garlic. Surely some mistake? Easily rectified though, and thus emboldened I added half a tsp of ginger purée instead of the tomato purée I did not have. I love chilli, so after a slight hesitation I added a few flakes. Continue reading

Regarding a Newly Sociable Cat

Thinking about it, MasterB has had a fairly sociable autumn, and in the middle of December I recall remarking to Michèle that his social life eclipsed mine. He spent November living with Birgit, and both Reinhild and Celia visited. In the middle of December, Bridget, who stayed here in 2016 while I was in Australia, called round for a calendar. I knew she was coming and we had agreed to meet downstairs. I left the door to my flat open. While we chatted we heard miaow miaow miaow from upstairs, and then came himself, barrelling down, tail hoisted like a flag, to greet Bridget. I have absolutely no doubt that he heard her voice and was determined that if she wasn’t coming up to see him, he was coming down to see her. She returned a few nights later with Janet, his other auntie while I was in Oz. We had drinks, nibbles and chips. MasterB had a lovely time.
Now I am the first to admit that MasterB is not the sharpest knife in the drawer; invitations to join MENSA have been notably absent, and though willing, he struggles with games demanding much (any) intellectual ability. However, he does know he he likes and loves, and he remembers those people with whom he has bonded very well. I’d love to see his reaction if the student couple who rescued him turned up. So with B&J he was sooo happy. He rolled on the carpet, he sat in the middle of the floor, he remembered the games that Bridget played with him and played them all over again. Animals, non-human animals that is, don’t lie: MasterB loves B&J. Official. Continue reading

Quite the Party Animal

New Year’s Eve, and all is quiet chez Isobel and Cat. The party goers are either in a different neighbourhood, or haven’t got started yet. I’m not sorry to miss them. It’s been a few years now since I have seen the New Year in. Friends have given up inviting me to join them watching fireworks. I used to like small supper parties that ended shortly after we drained the obligatory glasses of champagne as Big Ben tolled the end of the old year. But even that palled. Maybe one of these years I shall be seized with a longing to be in the midst of a crowd of revellers singing Auld Langs Syne, but not tonight. It’s questionable whether I shall still be awake at midnight, let alone revelling. No, I’m perfectly happy sitting here with the boy, writing a post, and with the promise of the new Kate Atkinson novel to read later.

I was out working today and tonight made a mean bowl of fresh tomato soup, then settled down to catch up with episode one of Les Misérables as adapted by Andrew Davies, the man who put Darcy into a pond and turned Colin Firth into an unlikely sex symbol. Tonight I got a view of Dominic West’s buttocks. Others will have enjoyed that view last night, but I was watching on catch up. I’d read a review in the Guardian online over breakfast. You can read it too if you like, just click here for the link.

The opening shot featured no buttocks at all, but instead Adeel Akthar cheerfully robbing the dead bodies on the battlefield the day after Waterloo.I felt a vicarious thrill of fame, Akthar’s parents-in-law are in our book group. One of the bodies wasn’t dead, he introduced himself as Colonel Pontmercy before once more losing consciousness, and although I have never read Les Mis, seen the film or the musical, I’m willing to bet a fairly hefty sum that the two will meet up again.
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