Wimps Abroad

Sitting out on the garden swing seat with partner, something rustled nearby. Partner exclaimed, Holy Shit! and gasped that it was a massive snake and that he had just startled it enough that it fled into our cellar. Spent next several hours trying to (a) ignore it and hope that it would go outside again, (b) make noise to scare it to go outside again, (c) with Aussie neighbour, who ‘knows about snakes‘, try to locate it where it was hiding under the staircase to see if it had buggered off. It hadn’t: its black and white zig-zag scales were clearly visible behind some breeze blocks. We gave up, left the cellar door open and went out for the evening. Much mickey-taking from friends about snakes and wimps. Typical, no respect, these Aussies.

Next morning, strong smell of fox in cellar, no sign of snake. Hmmm. Glad we don’t keep hens.

En Vacances…

Here we are, week two in La Belle France. Phew! What a scorcher! is an understatement. Since we arrived, there has been permanent Caricule (heatwave), with warnings on the autoroutes and elsewhere to take care and not do anything too taxing in the heat. So going in the garden has been restricted to the hours before midday and after 6.00 pm. Talking loudly and laughing like maniacs, both of which we tend to do after a few beverages, result in exhaustion and require a lie down in the cool cellar.
We were invited to a BBQ last evening and enjoyed it immensely. There were several nationalities present, in alphabetical order: Australian, British, Dutch, Irish. Fascinating to hear all the different cultures comparing notes on food, customs, language, etc.. Why on earth are we even considering leaving the EU? It’s lunatic, is what it is.

Back in the Old Country

Here we are, back home for a week. Too much traffic, too many noisy kids, too many people in the supermarket checkout queue. But still… people say ‘How’re ye?’ They talk to you, in proper sentences, they put you right if you take the wrong road, they’re not too busy to spend five minutes explaining where your old bank has relocated to.
For sure, all the millennials are glued to their mobiles, pavement cyclists still try to kill you, but they apologise, with charm, at the same time. It’s a dangerous world, the Old Country, but friendly: know what I mean?
And did I mention how feckin’ stunning the Old Place is? Just so’s you’ll know you can believe me, I’ll post a photo.

Another day, another Bank Holiday…

Early black clouds soon clear and there we are, a patch of blue and only a few drops of rain. Perfect, no snow and hardly even windy. What more could you ask?

Soon, the picnic basket will be packed, the route checked for roadworks, the car filled up with fuel and we’ll GO! Just have a quick look at emails and the news feed… and check what time the snooker final is on to record for himself…

Nothing like a BH for getting us out into the fresh air. Yes, there will be traffic jams and too many people out there, vying for space and queueing up in all the chippies and ice-cream parlours. But that’s okay, that’s what families do on a BH, they take the kids, or the grandkids, out somewhere nice to spend some quality time together. Lovely.

Breakfast pots are done now, and I’ve fed the birds; those two new baby blackbirds are fat as cuckoos. Might just pull up a few dandelions while I’m in the garden, they’re a bugger this year. The garden is greening up nicely. Must remember to take my camera…

Why is it that people always call on a BH? I’ve been on the phone for what seems like hours. Must admit that I did make the call to my friend, to make sure that we’re still on for lunch on Wednesday – we are – and then she had to tell me all about her grandkids, they’re off camping somewhere, with their mum and her new friend. She and Stuart are a bit lost without them, they usually take them to Scarborough or Blackpool on May BH… Than my sister rang, to see if we’re still coming over to visit later this month… of course we are, I told her two weeks ago I’d booked the tickets…

Might as well have a bit of lunch now. We’ll only have a snack. He’s just said the snooker is on in an hour. I forgot to iron a few napkins for the picnic basket, only need the two now, it’ll only take two minutes…

Well, okay, we didn’t go. But we could have gone, if we’d wanted. It’s just that I’d forgotten to cook the chicken portions and the scotch eggs were past their best-before date and I didn’t fancy the cheese. He said he didn’t mind; he’d be quite happy watching the snooker. And we wouldn’t have to fight with all the traffic and the crowds in the shops and all the usual BH stress. And remember, there’s another day off at Spring Bank, if we plan it carefully we can miss that one as well.

Green Shoots

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Could it be? Is Spring really on the way? The snowdrops have been decapitated in the recent winds, the daffs are nestling in their fat, papery cocoons, waiting for the whistle, and the begonia my sister sent me for Christmas is displaying new leaves. It’s quite an event when I don’t, by default, kill off a plant. I was sure it wouldn’t last, but here it is, Lent’s begun, and it’s still alive, shooting up, as they say of adolescent boys and drug addicts, though not with the same optics.

I love Spring. You can see where you are, for one thing. I could never live in Sweden, even though I worship Agnetha and Anni-Frid. And Bjorn Borg. Can you imagine anything worse, six months of near-total darkness? Or am I thinking of the Arctic circle? Could be, though the thought of cold and ice would probably drum out any worries re darkness. Never mind, here in jolly old Albion we have the proper four seasons, lucky us. Each has its own joys and wonders. Spring can be truly delightful, with crocus fields, bluebell woods and an end to your drippy nose.

Summer often results in the odd sunny day, the occasional butterfly, ladybird and even a bee or two. Not so hot that you have to leave your vest off, or anything, but pleasant, good for attempting a little weeding and washing winter’s smears off the windows. Don’t make the mistake of doing that in Spring, as it’s only too likely that winter hasn’t really gone away.

Autumn is lovely, with chestnuts and mushrooms and crunchy leaves to stamp on and the magnificent colours of tree foliage. That’s if the trees haven’t all been removed from the local avenues by the council, as ours recently were, to keep down the cost of renovating the roads. Such nonsense. Use my council tax to maintain the trees and start subsidising public transport again, you cretins. I will not start a rant about trees combatting air pollution, but I expect you know where I’m coming from.

Winter, I’m afraid, isn’t much fun. We don’t often get ‘proper’ snow, the kind you can build snowmen from, the kind that allows you to stay off school or work because all the roads are blocked by mountainous drifts. We get cold, wet weather in winter these days, with icy roads and pavements in the mornings, just to upset people who are already upset because they have to go to school and work, instead of tobogganing and throwing snowballs at the neighbours.

Still, at least they’re not in Malmo.

 

Retro Happy

We’ve done it. We’ve joined the hipsters. Good joke when you think we were there the first time round. I’m sick of feeling envious of these Millennials coming into the pub with their brand new vinyl, which they then flash about and pop off to their mates on Instagram. Why shouldn’t us wrinklies join in?

So we signed up for it. After a quick peruse online, we went off to the city and spent a day browsing the Hi-Fi shops. You can spend a fortune on a deck, which is what they call them now, and I felt like the proverbial hick listening to the sales spiel about interfaces and negative bluetooth capacity. I don’t even know what bluetooth means; I ignore it on my digital radio and it doesn’t seem to make any difference to Ken Bruce. But my partner understands the mechanics, in fact he seems to enjoy the techie stuff at least as much as the music, so that’s all right then.

We ordered one and it arrived a couple days later. After he’d spent several hours trying to get it to work with our complicated home cinema equipment, the penny dropped and we could listen to our original old scratchy LPs; I refuse to call them vinyl, it makes me think of toilet paper, though I think that was Izal, remember scratchy Izal, back in the dark ages? Some things are best left behind.

So now I’m seeing and hearing a whole new side of my tech-lovin’ partner. I knew he’d been a bit of a punk, back in the day, but turns out he’s also a closet Black Sabbath fan, who knew? Makes my Gilbert O’Sullivan crush a bit tame, don’t you think? Still, I haven’t dug out Tull’s Thick as a Brick yet, that’ll show him.

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Bad Month for Black Dog

“…a bad month for black dogs…”

The words echo along the deserted underground tunnel as I jump from the escalator to slink behind a pillar and wait for someone, anyone, to come. It’s true, although every month is a bad month for black dogs, January is worst. How did I come to choose the underground? Let me think, it was accidental the first time, two shouting boys chased me on the street, and I just ran into the first entrance I came to. After that it was easy, slipping down moving metal stairs, between the legs and feet of commuters, I managed to get a biscuit, a chunk of pizza, some prawn crackers and once even an ear-rub from a kind woman. But soon the feet would climb onto a train and leave me alone on the platform. Even the woman who’d whispered soft, sweet words as she rubbed my ears and throat left me. I should be used to it, I know, everyone leaves.

I spent my first weeks in a dark place with many others, young and raw, like me. My mother was there at first, I think I can remember climbing over others like me to get close to her, but I can’t be sure now. There was whimpering, yelping and it was cold, always so cold. I was taken from there in a bag and into a Christmas Day. That place was new and it was not cold, there was no mother, but a lot of sweet food. I vomited and shit everywhere and was put into another bag and left outside with Merry Christmas rubbish.

You don’t want to hear all the story, do you? It’s not a happy one, though there was one happy day, when I found a safe place next to a warm pipe in a cellar. There were others, many others, living there, small creatures with sharp teeth and long tails like worms. They ran about constantly, coming and going through holes between bricks, squeaking and blinking at me, stiff whiskers twitching. Sitting up on back legs and using front feet to hold onto food and other things, I didn’t know what. I had no food, but I ate some scraps that they left on the ground. More vomit and shit came, but before long my stomach got used to the food and I stayed by the warm pipe until my body and legs grew stronger. When the pipe became too hot, I had to find somewhere colder. That was the end of the happy time.

If someone asked me now, what would you like to happen? I would say I’d like to find my mother. I’m sure she was kind, she smelled like me and had ears and eyes like mine. If I couldn’t find her, then I’d like to find somewhere warm and safe to stay, some food that didn’t make me sick and maybe someone to rub my ears when I’m drifting off to sleep. There could be kind people every day in the underground, maybe the right one will find me soon, before January is over.

Back to porridge

Don’t know what it means? Well, it’s an old Irish expression meaning when all the good stuff is eaten it’s time to get a pot of stirabout going.

We’ve eaten all the good stuff. The Xmas meat scraps have been donated to the neighbourhood cats, there are only two mince pies left in the cake tin, and tomorrow I’ll have to go the the supermarket.

In the meantime, it’s porridge. How do you like yours? My partner is a Spartan porridge eater, just oats made with water, the thicker the better. No milk, no cream, no sugar. No thanks. I like mine made with water, not too thick, served with cream and maple syrup, or tart applesauce, stirred through. But oats are good in flapjacks, biscuits and smoothies, too. And wheaten bread. Here’s some I made earlier, not available in the supermarket.

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End of a Manic year…

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Is it possible that we will get to the end of 2016 without catastrophe? Retrospectives are everywhere, seemingly more so than usual, though I think that’s probably the Year of Mania effect. Russian ambassadors are being expelled from the US as a result of the alleged Clinton election hack furore. Putin is playing the moral high card of non-retaliation, for the moment. Syria still teeters on the brink, its war far from finished. Hopefully Syrian residents will be able to wake up intact in the coming days and weeks. And the rest of us, too. Yes, it could get that bad.

As if on cue, to show the state of mania in today’s world, one-time DJ Noel Edmonds has been on the radio, explaining that cats know they shouldn’t kill mice and birds, but that if we just say ‘that’s naughty and if you don’t do it you will get your reward in heaven’ our cats will understand and cease the slaughter of their little furred and feathered prey.

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Of course they will, and Donald Trump is a frisky lamb with a comb-over. But the real poser is, does Noel’s patient instruction work in the human world? Or, perhaps, why doesn’t it? Remember the immortal words of Yoda, my go-to philosopher: Patience, you must have.

Speaking of fake news, and who hasn’t been lately, I hope the brilliant press cartoonists will keep up the amazing standards they have exhibited in recent months. Don’t believe what the columnists are writing? Just look at the political cartoons and then you can work out your own, rational, response.

For the moment, mine is: A Happy and Peaceful New Year, May You Have.

Dying all over the world…

Rick Parfitt …and now George Michael. What a truly shit year. My heroes and heroines have been dying with unseemly haste. I cannot count the number of greats who have departed life in this abysmal year. It’s so shocking, it’s creepy.

But why this year? What has been exceptional about 2016? Since the start of the third millennium events have been turning darker, we believe. People are afraid of the future, it’s hard to be optimistic. But, hold on, have we not been here before? I’m not old enough to remember the Great War, or even WW2, but I do most vividly remember the Vietnam war, the first television war. I lived through the Troubles in Northern Ireland, which lasted thirty years and, to some extent, continue to this day. Those were frightening dark times, too. People died before they had lived. The difference today is that news, any news, is instant. Social media affords us the opportunity to be informed, 24/7; to live the news more or less as it happens. When bombs exploded at night in 70s Belfast we knew only that they were close or not so close, big or not so big. The news of where and who had been attacked was made public the following day, often not even then. Each celebrity death this year has been a body blow, these were the performers I shared my childhood with, shared my teenage years with, became an adult with. And now, as these lives end, and we learn of them immediately and in some detail, they feel so personal, they genuinely hurt.

Is this immediacy a good thing? I think it probably is. People are informed, they can show they care, if they do. They can respond to sad or bad news within minutes, seconds, it seems. And there is no excuse, in 2016, for not knowing. Caring is a different matter. The residents of Syria may not benefit from our social media obsession. They know what is happening to their city and its citizens, mainly through personal experience. They know that we in the West must also be aware of their agony. But, lacking any response, they must wonder, do we care?