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A tunnel too far

Mad excitement! I’ve finally been on a plane, after very nearly three full years of abstinence. 

I was fortunate to have been on holiday just before the first Covid lockdown was ordered, so for several months I accepted being grounded. There were other things to think about in 2020. 

2021 rolled in and again there was acceptance of the next wave of lockdown. I am generally a law-abiding person and not by nature a rebellious soul (although I am perhaps getting there with this, on my own terms at least), so I shrugged and grumpily accepted my lot. We were at least able to travel around the UK and I managed to knock off a few more miles on the Coast Path in Cornwall.

2022 – I would normally have expected to be back in the skies seeking exotic climes, but a combination of unreliable airlines (loads of cancellations) and my Greta-Thunberg sympathies meant that I still didn’t have the gumption to book anything. My British Airways Gold Card (that divisive old thing) lay tarnished in the drawer, apparently never to be resurrected. Towards the end of the year I began feverishly investigating trains, in the hope that an Interrailing adventure might materialise. And it still might.

But by the end of January 2023, I was almost beside myself with itchy wings. Friends still working were back on the overseas meetings circus, fellow retirees seemed to have notched up at least one trip each since lockdown and some of them were fully back on schedule with their four hols a year. And my house was mostly cold, dark and still in need of serious refurbishment; the old avoidance reflex finally kicked in and in early February I found myself back on the annoying platform that is the BA website.

It is now March 2023, and I can tick off a new place – although sadly not an actual new country because, although it is miles from the mainland, Madeira is an outpost of Portugal and I’ve been to the capital, Lisbon, already. This time I have the passport stamp to prove it – one small Brexit benefit for an ‘evidence and statistics’ travel enthusiast such as myself. I can sometimes sadly be found fondly reading through my passport – one of those with extra pages which my employer paid for me to have because I needed regular Indian or Russian visas which use up the pages of a standard passport too quickly.

So, Madeira. I travelled with British Airways from Heathrow. I have written a full account on my ‘holiday’ blog site – which you can find here if you’re interested. It was a much-needed and much-appreciated trip and I have now joined the ranks of enthusiasts for this beautiful place.

However, right now the most enduring effect of the holiday is my unfortunate and continuing inability to kneel. 

Now, this may not be a particularly dreadful handicap for a non-church-goer and, as accidents go, mine was pretty trivial – but the annoyance factor is huge.

As part of my trip planning, I had booked myself on a Levada* walk for my final full day. I was confident I would be able to complete the advertised 12.5 km and that I would not be troubled by the steep drops, the narrow slippery paths and the occasional bursts of uphill trudging.

My fellow walkers, six in all, were younger than me by at least 9 years. I know this because the guide, who I suspect was in fact older than me, very chivalrously sat me in the front passenger seat of the minibus (the most comfortable seat with the best view) and ensured I was the last person to complete the registration list requiring us to write our names and birth dates so I was the only one to see all the ages and no-one saw mine. No doubt this was, in fact, part of some clever “I absolve your company from all liability in relation to the stupid things I am about to do” legal waiver which of course didn’t seem important at the time other than to remind me of my great age. And of course, this chivalry also allowed my fellow walkers to assume I was much OLDER than I actually am. Ah well.

We set off from near the top of one of the volcanic mountains and ticked off all the promised features of the walk: beautiful views; many stunning waterfalls; perilously narrow sections with steep drops to one side and sheer rock water channels on the other; uneven and slippery rock steps; occasional bird-life and plenty of different trees and plants identified for us. Finally, the last feature was an 800m tunnel through which the Levada flowed and which we were required to navigate in the pitch black. We were each given a stylish, and slightly damp-smelling head-torch to supplement our personal phone torches, and we marched single file to the end. As my night vision is generally poor and in this type of condition I normally lean heavily on Mr J (who, of course, was back in London so of no use at all on this occasion), I was more nervous of this part than any of the other obstacles – but I was pleased to reach the far end unscathed and not even the slightest bit traumatised.

I congratulated myself on how well I had been able to keep up with everyone and enjoy the whole experience and turned round to take one last photograph of the tunnel we had just traversed – and the next thing I knew I was on my hands and knees on the wet volcanic rock path, in excruciating pain. I don’t remember what words I may have exclaimed – quite possibly not Portuguese – but my fellow travellers turned as one to view my embarrassment as I paused to consider whether I could summon a modicum of composure or indeed rise to my feet before the mud and damp soaked in too much. 

I was helped to a standing position. I remember at this point rejoicing that I had not immediately dissolved in tears and was, in fact, to be heard bravely claiming that there was no real harm done. My knees and left hand were quietly but insistently telling me this was a great big lie, but there’s nothing like middle-aged British stiff-upper-lippery to paper over emotional cracks and overcome mere physical adversity. I was persuaded to roll up my walking-trouser leg on the more agonising of the two lower limbs. This revealed actual blood, despite the material of the trouser apparently being unharmed – a feature I have unfortunately experienced before. A kind American proferred a small sanitiser pack and I wiped my knee boldly. “I’ll be absolutely fine. No worries.” 

The guide was solicitous but not overly so and after a few further moments of mutual reassurance, and a pained rolling-down of the trouser leg, we proceeded on the last 0.5km to the mini-bus which had magically relocated itself to our finish point. At a small cafe shortly afterwards I thanked the guide and the kind American as we sipped our caffeinated rewards and looked back towards the mountain. 

I was dropped back at my hotel. Rather than go to my room to (metaphorically) lick my wounds, I decided I should first buy some more essentials (biscuits) from the little supermarket down the road. Having done that, I realised I had yet to purchase a fridge magnet – a necessary trinket from every trip to the big overseas. This involved quite a protracted walk along a previously unexplored road, and it was more than half an hour before I finally returned to my hotel room. I had been planning to take a quick dip in one of the selection of pools, or even risk the sea, but on inspecting my knees I judged that no-one would want such open wounds polluting the swimming pools and the sea option involved clambering down a metal ladder with potential for adding further grazes against the many rock faces. I therefore retreated to a sun lounger, although even this was quite brave given that in order to reach my preferred location I had to parade my bloodied knees down 8 flights of hotel stairs, into a shared lift and past several other occupied loungers before I could settle myself.

By this stage I was tired and still mildly annoyed at myself, but otherwise sufficiently chirpy to send Mr J a photograph of my wretched limbs. I later enjoyed a warm bath and the legs looked decidedly better. It was only late on in the evening, after resting and catching up on my reading, that I realised I had lost the ability to bend my left leg. This was more than mildly alarming, but deciding there was nothing much I could do about it and that perhaps if I took a couple of Ibuprofen it might be better in the morning, I retired to bed.

And I was right. I was able to shuffle down the four flights of stairs to the breakfast room, and then clamber onto the airport transfer bus. Later still, and when more awake, I managed to drag my over-sized luggage onto two buses from Heathrow to Kingston and then the 20 minute walk home from the town centre with only the occasional wince. Sadly, my camera – which took the full clattering force of my fall onto volcanic rock – has not bounced back so easily.

One week after my return, now rather enjoying the spectacular colour changes of the bruising, I made the stupid mistake of kneeling on my office carpet to sort out my music folder. The ensuing screaming and swearing (of which I am not proud) revealed that there is still something quite unpleasantly wrong. We are currently working on the assumption that this is a bruised bone and that it will go away with the passing of time.

I am quite determined that this will not stop me from future expeditions. I resolve to take more care, never relax and always be wary of looking forward to that light at the end of the tunnel! It may not be as good as it seems.

 

*Levada = irrigation channel or aqueduct specific to Madeira.

 

 

A more cheerful, and much more beneficial, week


I inadvertently failed to post my last missive on the day it was written – no doubt my brain was operating below par and most definitely below optimum temperature as I plumbed the depths of our bathroom and heating tribulations.

Said tribulations are not yet entirely forgotten, but my rational self has returned (rational, you scoff? Ha!) and I have thrown myself into pleasurable busyness.

Inside the chimney
In all its sunny glory

On Monday last week we ascended en famille into Battersea heaven via a glorious glass lift up one of the iconic and now restored chimneys of the forty-year project that is the old Power Station, to the accompaniment of a Pink Floyd instrumental. This was in honour of the offspring’s birthdays which occur in rapid succession around this time of year. Somewhat bemused by the paucity of explanation by the clip-boarded and be-microphoned staff, and underwhelmed by the ante-chamber displays, we were whisked up the chimney into fabulous winter sunshine and a perfect blue sky. We were told, not the history of the building or the speed of the lift or the directions to look in order to see the Wembley Arch etc, but instead not to touch the controls at the sides of the lift pod. This of course served only to encourage us to ponder what a disobedient action might trigger and, in my case, a nagging reminder of a scene from Charlie & the Chocolate Factory.

It all made a good talking point for a long lazy lunch afterwards. So nice to get together like this from time to time.

In fact, the birthday season continued two days later as Daughter J celebrated the turning of her personal year by inviting her decrepit but still young at heart (honest! Well, sometimes…) mother to be spot-welded at Liberty of London. The welding was a Christmas present from Daughter to Mother and this seemed a good opportunity to ‘get it done’.

An invitation not to be refused (or properly understood, it seems), for when we arrived, it was to the jewellery department we headed and not the famous boutique forge. (Perhaps I have been muddling Liberty with Horrids. I’m sure they have a blacksmith’s.) 

I produced the appropriate gift certificate from my, in the context of these hallowed environs, distinctly shabby but suitably capacious handbag, and a lovely Liberty lady exhibited the range of chains from which we were permitted to choose. Nervously wondering how many shifts at Daughter J’s restaurant I would be able to survive whilst shackled to her, I chose a very fine chain and bravely surrendered my right wrist for measuring. It transpires that, unlike the other increasingly generously proportioned areas of my person, my wrists remain those of an underfed child. As the appropriately short chain was prepared I mused that this would perhaps provide some infinitesimal boost to Messrs Liberty’s profit margins. No wonder the nice lady was smiling; not just to comfort me and my nerves then.

Just look how brave I am

Continuing in ‘brave’ mode, I volunteered to go first and was led to a mysterious counter-top box with a side flap, into which I was gently invited to thrust my right hand. And so in I thrust, and as my hand disappeared I took a seat alongside the nice Liberty lady who was now wielding an implement (which I refused to inspect, for fear of an onslaught of nerviness on my part) and we were off!

Magnification assists the welder

Daughter J kept up a gentle, and possibly ill-advised, patter of chat about tattoos and piercings, whilst the nice Liberty lady played with my wrist in the box. I kept very still. The chatter progressed to laser treatments, as I realised the nice Liberty lady’s ‘weapon’ of choice was in fact neither hammer nor tongs, but a laser. Fortunately, before my mind raced too far and caused me to flinch, it was all over and my hand emerged with a  slender gold bracelet now seamlessly attached. Not attached to or embedded in my skin, I hasten to add, but seamlessly welded into one unbroken circle.

Matching, but not actually shackled together.

Relieved that in fact there was no invasion of my bodily sanctuary, nor any scar or scab, I ceded my chair to Daughter J who cheerily proffered her own right arm and, notwithstanding a small delay possibly as a result of her fidgeting, saw our joint endeavour through to the end. I was able to watch this time, through a hugely magnifying lens. I concluded this must be just the same as keyhole surgery, and felt immediately proud – of us, and of the nice Liberty lady’s remarkable skill. Ludicrous, but one should always make the most of such positive vibes. And now we each have matching gold chains to remind us of each other at all times. A rather lovely thing, I feel.

Between these two exciting and celebratory days, came a chilly and foggy Tuesday. This saw me installed at 10.30am behind a folding table, my iPad at the ready – in the middle of a patch of grass outside our local community hall. I had my regulation ‘singing in a cold church’ thermal clothing on, countless layers of fabric including proper woollen items, but by 11am it was quite clear this would be insufficient. I was with a colleague in similarly Michelin-man attire. We had both been trained a few days beforehand in the hugely beneficial granting of Fuel Vouchers for issuing to qualifying claimants with pre-pay gas/electric meters. We were ready to go, and expecting a steady stream of applicants. 

Whilst we got ourselves organised – with Mrs J revealing her IT strengths in a) identifying immediately that the MiFi device we had been lent was not working (despite being told repeatedly that it WAS) and b) setting up a WiFi Hotspot on my own phone and getting us both logged onto it (I am indeed a complete techie now). I was, however, sadly lacking when it came to downloading the necessary materials to my colleague’s Android phone, so we resigned ourselves to working in tandem. No matter.

Once the excitement of connectivity abated, and we had issued our first two vouchers, we realised just how cold we had become, and the friendly lady from the Food Bank (which was located and in full swing inside the community hall) brought us some space blankets (tin-foil) which we stylishly wrapped around our lower portions. The hot water bottles she also brought were never filled with hot water – I guess it’s the thought that counts – so they sat beneath our feet, at least providing a barrier between us and the cold ground. 

Sun had reached us by now, but we still had our space blankets on.

In fact, a little later, the fog cleared and the sun peeked around the tower block to our left, affording us at least half an hour of replenishing warmth, before it crept back behind the next tower. We had earlier refused a gazebo, on the basis that it was not raining or windy, and we didn’t think it would be any warmer. In the warming sun, we congratulated ourselves as we surveyed our other charity colleagues in the gloom of their gazebo. At this stage, we even managed to get the Android version of the application to work. Perhaps it just needed some solar help.

Fourteen vouchers were issued between us. That’s just short of £700 handed out, to some very grateful people. It was a privilege to be able to do this, and although it took me a good hour or two at home to thaw out properly, it was most definitely worth it. And hopefully by March, when our next event takes place, the weather will be a little more clement.

NB. I volunteer for an organisation called RBKares which helps the local community in Kingston upon Thames, which is not quite the rich ‘leafy’ borough it is often thought to be (at least, not for everyone). https://rbkares.org  Donations always welcome, or come and join us if you live locally.

 

 

 

 

 

‘It’ll make a blog post, I suppose…’

There is more than a little sense of déjà vu in Jillings Towers today. Although, linguistic pedant that I sometimes become, it is not what my eyes can see that is the problem, but rather what my extremities – and indeed increasingly, my core and other adjacent parts – can feel.

We are once again a heating-free zone. Having marched across town to the ‘big’ Sainsbury’s and back, laden with domestic essentials of the heavier variety (and fortunately a lighter-weight duo of sticky buns – which barely touched the sides of our respective chilly gullets in our immediate and greedy effort to turn glossy icing calories into useful human warmth), I am now hunched over my laptop, with a blanket on my knees, awaiting the return of the latest plumbing chap to tread our troubled boards. 

The heating issues we experienced in the Autumn had largely been solved, and we needed only two new thermostatic valves on a couple of drippy radiators. Mr J completed Mission Valve Purchase at the weekend, and the plumbing firm engaged to replace our main shower this week agreed to fit them whilst on site. Pats on the back all round, and an early start on Monday to greet the quietly pleasant bathroom fitter who set to work in the bathroom.

Monday saw good progress, with the old shower door panels removed and the new wall panels cut and placed in position. More mutual back patting – we’re finally getting this done. Remember, if you will – our thwarted plans for the shower refurb before Christmas. In the event, our seasonal guests accepted the reduced facilities available without complaint (although I am steadfastly not looking at Tripadvisor scores for the Norbiton area, just in case) and indeed Daughter J – a shower-only apartment dweller – turned it to her advantage and took leisurely baths as a rare treat. 

The shower panels which had proved so elusive before the festive season were duly delivered and a date arranged for fitting which should have been two weeks ago. We were then advised that the fitter had a family emergency and had to return home for several days so the whole renovation was deferred. In the meantime, we decided to double check that these panels were fine – and to our horror, discovered that they were not what we thought we had ordered. There followed much earthy language and histrionics (mine, of course, Mr J is much better behaved in these circumstances, possibly on this occasion because Mrs J had done the ordering so it could not be his fault!) and then – after a restorative cup of coffee and a review of the original order – I grabbed the phone and began to remonstrate with the various companies who had been involved in the supply chain. All delightful and helpful, as it happens, although they did conclude that I was completely justified in believing I had ordered the right item. Sadly, two identically described and photographed items are in fact quite different and I had a 50% chance of the one I ordered being correct. So I had simply been unlucky (and I am still pondering how to write a reasoned product review for this ridiculous situation). I have already described in my previous blogpost the early morning arrival of what did transpire to be the right panels at last.

Back to the chilly present. Day 2 of the refurb began well with a friendly offer of coffee accepted and the fitter was once again ensconced in our bathroom, occasionally to be heard whistling, with the odd encouraging sound of construction. We have previously had builders and fitters who couldn’t stop talking – our loft conversion, for example, was completed by three lovely guys (one to chat to me all day, one to make the tea and nip to the shop for teabags, and the other to do all the work). This time we were busy and quite content to leave him alone. This was a mistake.

At the end of the day, our plumbing loner emerged to say that all was done and he would return the following day just to fit the radiator valves. I tentatively ask if I can view his handiwork. ‘Of course. And I have tested it for you.’

One quick glance later, I realise he has installed the sliding door panels the wrong way round – meaning that:

  • the previously easy access is rendered slightly less so,
  • turning the shower on and off will be impossible without climbing into the shower tray and getting wet (for cleaning or whilst adjusting the temperature), and
  • the neat little cabinet which previously sat against the wall will have to go somewhere far less convenient. 

‘So, you’ve put the door in the wrong place. Can you swap it round?’ (I play distractedly with the new door – sliding it gently to and fro, enjoying the smoothness and silence of the glide, trying to appreciate the gleaming clean glass and shiny shower fittings – and realising gradually that he has siliconed the door panels to the wall panels which all looks and feels very much unswappable.)

’Er not really. And this is the way we have to instal them. The conventional way.’

He leaves. I am, perhaps unreasonably and certainly monumentally, distraught.

A fevered trawl around the plumbiverse reveals that the normal orientation for shower doors is as per our previous arrangement and NOT the ‘conventional’ way our new door has been hung. 

I fear our choices are to (a) grin and bare it (sic) or (b) have it ripped out and reorder all panels which will inevitably be damaged in the process. Neither course really appeals and I spend a sleepless and catastrophising night anticipating the morning’s standoff. Should we have intervened at regular intervals to check his progress? Why did he not ask us how we wanted it done? Did he not notice the way the panel he removed had been fixed? Why would we want to change this if we had not specifically said so? Round and round, pointlessly and inconclusively, I am alternately furious with him and hard on myself. I am even unable, at this juncture, to bring to mind the oft-used phrase « At least it is material for another blog-post. »

As dawn dawns, Mr J – the more measured Jillings, to be sure – rallies alongside me and announces to the returning installer that ‘We have a problem!’ 

There follows a brief and not-very-well disguised sulk, leading to much in-bathroom banging and crashing, some sotto voce vernacular (no doubt a specialist plumbing dialect) and eventually a ‘So now it is done. You must wait two hours before you use it. I will now deal with the radiators.’

As I play with the lovely new door and savour its new graunchiness (‘if you push against it a little, it does not make that screeching sound’ – Oh hu-bloody-rah!), he informs us that he will be switching off the boiler and the water supply for a while. 

Six hours later, a replacement and much chattier plumber explains that it was pure fluke that our boiler conked out when his silent colleague fitted our new valves and that he is absolutely fine with haring over to Hampton in rush hour in his gaudy little van to buy a new part before fitting it and hopefully switching our heating  back on.

The premise of this blog, I remind myself, is to see the cheeriness alongside the weepiness. I therefore state for the record that am now confident I will thaw out soon. 

Note: No plumbers were harmed in this process. (As far as I know.)

A cold and weary player reaches surprising heights

‘She leaps urgently out of her bed at 7.05. It is not yet light. An unusual occurrence, especially with such a banging headache, but she is certain the extraordinarily loud ‘school’s out’-impersonating front doorbell has just been rung and her presence is required two floors below. Grabbing an improbably fluffy pink bathrobe en route, and still sporting scruffy bedsocks, she descends perilously quickly – noting, as she passes, that her other half has not stirred from the first-floor room she had made up for him late the previous evening whilst in superwoman mode (don’t ask, but it was an act of kindness rather than banishment, and involved significant solo mattress-humping – hmm, that was meant more in the furniture removal sense; the mattresses of two beds had been double stacked for reasons far too complex to explain here). Hmmph – she’s probably dreamt the stupid bell.

Reaching the hallway in record time (possibly), she tentatively opens the door a crack, hoping (as ever at such ungodly hours) that, if she has not been dreaming, then this will at least not be the police. It is in fact a small man, waving a dog-eared A4 sheet and announcing that he has a delivery of shower panels. The delivery for which she had set an alarm to ensure she would be up and ‘decent’ by 8am, the beginning of the 10-hour delivery window promised. 

“It’s only 7 o’clock,” she wails.

“I’ve come from Birmingham,” is the simple response, delivered in an authentic Brummie accent. 

Well, of course, that makes it all fine then. 

It is icy outside. She is wearing her bedsocks. She is NOT going out there to help, no matter how small this man may be, nor how far he has had to drive from Birmingham to get here, but he seems unperturbed and scurries to his van – which is parked in the middle of the street with its hazard lights bleakly flashing to ward off the impending bin-lorry (for it is Wednesday morning) – returning three times in rapid succession with the huge cardboard-encased packages containing (hopefully) shower wall panels to replace the incorrectly ordered three which had arrived the previous week (at a later and more suitable o’clock) and had been collected only yesterday.

After a further mad dash back to the top floor to retrieve a pair of spectacles for use in a cursory inspection of delivery labels and a fighting chance of working out which box she is supposed to be signing on the scruffy A4 without relying entirely on the Midlands’ finest digital box-indicator (“in that box there, no there”, with accompanying index-finger jabbing), she gently closes the door lest any of the scurrying commuters should glimpse that pastel-fluff robe – or, heaven forbid, the bedsocks! 

And climbs wearily back upstairs to cancel the alarm and climb back into bed. Until the inevitable bin-din begins, and the rest of the day takes over.”

You will note that I have written the above account in the third person as though it was someone else. It already has a surreal feeling as though I dreamt the whole thing. I did not. Sadly, I was trying to catch up on sleep, having risen at 4am the previous morning in order to reach Wembley Arena where I was booked to do a day’s work as a Supporting Artist with a call time of 5.45am. As is usual with these productions, I am not at liberty to tell you what exactly I was doing, with whom or for what production. So I will simply say that we were 400 in number, all women ‘of a certain age’ (forgive me, but I think that gives an accurate picture whether I like it or not), sitting in a variety of seats and formations so that our number can be swollen to 10,000 by green-screen and digital magic. There will therefore presumably be 25 versions of me in the final film – I wish I had taken that into account when agreeing my fee!

Despite being indoors all day and in the company of so many other people, and even though we were allowed to put our coats and blankets on in between takes, I became numbingly cold. The arena is vast, has a concrete floor and no visible means of heating – until they finally brought in a few cannon-shaped heaters with fearsome gas jets inside, which made little difference, especially because they had to be turned off when the cameras were rolling because of the terrifying noise they made.

By the time I finally signed out at 8pm, I reckon my body temperature was hovering somewhere below normal and I was unusually glad of the warmth of the tube train.

In fact, it was a fascinating day despite the cold. I get to meet lots of different people and we collectively create the world the director requires, which could be anything.  This time, I was excited that we were being asked to sing. I think a favourite memory will be of a rehearsal at 7.30am of the famous hymn Jerusalem the words to which we had been sent no more than 12 hours previously along with a link to YouTube so we could learn it. A maddeningly chirpy young chap stood up on a table and a slightly less than chirpy young lady climbed half way up the staircase at one end of the room. Each was wrangling several boards on which the words of Jerusalem had been printed in LARGE. “Let’s have a go” he cheerfully yelled. “Three, two, one… ” He did not start the singing – he probably doesn’t know it – and clearly did not feel we needed a starting note or a beat. Miraculously – and surely because we were a large gaggle of middle-aged women – by the time the Holy Lamb of God made an appearance, we had settled on a key and a tempo, and all was going swimmingly until we discovered that the Countenance Divine was reluctant to shine until AFTER the bows and arrows had been brought – a somewhat unorthodox verse order which had to be speedily, and roughly, cut and pasted in time for the on-camera performance. At least we had the notes in roughly the right order, even if they were quite definitely not in the usual key.  

The ‘gold’ moment was delivered later when we were installed in the Arena and the actors had taken to the rostrum. A far-too-cheerful Welsh girl (we wore her down to a more normal level of cheeriness by the end of the day) exhorted us to ‘Stand when you hear the intro, and then give it your all!’ And, as I had rather feared earlier, the canned piano music began rousingly in the customary D major key for Jerusalem and I rose to my feet in the sure and certain knowledge that I would never be able to build that there Jerusalem anywhere near those Satanic Mills, situated as they would be more than an octave north of my normal pleasant warbling lands. However – buoyed up by the sight of a demented lady actor at the grand piano on stage pretending to play with enormous enthusiasm and flourish, and more than a little amused that the three irritating ladies who had been sitting in front of me for the past hour or so talking endlessly and loudly in their native Russian* had been temporarily and lustily transformed into my very English mother-in-law, I screeched my way right up to JerUSalem’s top E. Although jubilant, I have rarely been as relieved to hear the director shout ‘CUT’, and the world will be spared any further squeaky attempt at the green and pleasant lands. I will admit that I mimed the top notes in the later renditions we were required to give, and failed to bring a tear to either of my eyes even when the cameras were panning close, which is a shame, as I usually find myself blubbing when I sing this hymn for real. I mentioned this to the lady sitting next to me and told her that I had sung it at my own wedding. ‘Oh so did I,” she said. “But we’re divorced now, and I’m not going to cry about that!” And we had a laugh, and that sums up the way we get through fourteen hours of shuffling between different seating blocks, hiding our voluminous coats under our chairs so the high-mounted cameras can’t see anything, discussing how many layers of thermal undergarments we have respectively managed to conceal beneath our summery outfits, arguing about which casting agencies are best (or worst) and sharing horror stories of the earliest call times, the coldest days (this one a definite contender) and the best catering food (today’s was plentiful but not spectacular).

As I stumbled into the dark evening via the VIP gate through which I had sleepily staggered in the dark morning hours before, I was looking forward to a warm snack when I got home (instead a bought a calorie-packed flapjack bar at Waterloo and ate it greedily on the train) and a good long sleep (which was postponed due to my brief stint as Superwoman and a bad case of foot-cramp, and then abruptly shortened by the pre-dawn Brummie.) Ah well, I will not cease from mental fight until those arrows of desire are sated. Or some such nonsense – sorry, I am sleep deprived … and still a little cold.

*Little did they know I have a degree in Russian and was following their every word – haha. I could understand at least one in every twenty! 

The “wrong” Santa, and other tales of Yule

Another year turns… In fact, it turned a week ago but clearly my New Year’s Resolutions don’t run to increased energy for blogging.

As is usual for this dark time of year, I have well-intentioned lists a-plenty, but little energy to achieve the tasks I’ve boldly put upon them. This may not be being helped by my latest madcap idea of Time Limited Eating (TLE), having read an article in the Times (so of course it must be right) which suggested that restricting the window in which one eats and increasing the length of periods of fasting is the best way to lose those extra pounds gained over Christmas. I’ll report more on this when I’ve given it a fair trial. Bizarrely though, I have managed to cut out breakfast and evening snacking completely for 5 days in a row, with almost no ill-effects and an immediate loss of a few pounds. Time will tell.

I was spurred on to take this challenge by the awful question on New Year’s Day – How on this calorie-abundant earth can I lose the many pounds I’ve gained before squeezing myself into the costume I was fitted for before Christmas? Every year it is the same story – I lose all reason over the holiday period and honestly believe that it won’t be that hard to shed the Christmas excess come January; having eaten six times the normal quantity of food almost exclusively consisting of high fat or high sugar items instead of my usual sensible balanced diet, for 10 whole days while our house is full of people doing the same (so who am I to be left out even if I do have to cook and/or procure most of it), it will surely be simple to cut back to the normal levels in January, banishing the alcohol I only really drink in December anyway, which will automatically lead to a reduction in waistline and rapid shrinkage all round. It matters not that this has never happened. Selective memory is a wonderful thing, as is false logic and hope. Ah well, TLE – as with all good TLAs – will be a useful ally.  As I say, we’ll wait and see.

Christmas itself is already becoming a distant memory, but I have retained a few highlights seared on my grey-matter to add to the soon-to-be-muddled Chrimble memory-banks. So I record these here for future reference as much as anything.

Our decorations mostly went up just the day before our guests arrived, much to the consternation of my neighbour’s four-year-old who was apparently quite distressed that we had plonked an unadorned fir tree in our window, pestering his mother to let him come round and ‘help’ us with it, as we clearly didn’t know how to do it properly. This did, however, allow Mr J’s 10-year-old niece from America to dress the tree with me, to the loud accompaniment of ‘the Christmas CD’ (obligatory for the past 20 years at least for this part of the proceedings)  whilst her father attempted to sleep off his jet-lag in the room above. (“Why didn’t you sleep on the plane Dad? I did, and now I’m not jet-lagged at all? You should have slept!” How we laughed, well, except ‘Dad’ of course.)

We have now packed them all away (the decorations, not the guests, although we DID finally pack them onto a plane home just before New Year’s Eve) and the house has returned to its somewhat dispiriting self. 

We stuck to our usual format for festivities as far as possible this year. Despite anticipation that this would be the first time since Covid that we had all the Jillingses in one place for Yuletide, one of them chose not to come after all (a long story) so we were six. The missing brother/uncle usually carves the turkey for me – Mr J confidently and competently stepped into the breach here and all was well. However, this same missing brother/uncle has played a crucial part in the proceedings in recent years by gamely donning our rather tacky but effective Santa suit in secret and mysteriously appearing at the front door with a sack of presents to give out on Christmas morning.

This year, Son Jillings is nominated as a last-minute replacement (after a fictional secret ballot) and before even a sip of alcohol has passed his lips, poor chap, he sneaks off to pull on the red and white uniform and wig/beard/spectacles combo. Following the usual well-trodden process, he lets himself out of our back living room garden door, tiptoes carefully up the side passage, through the side gate and appears at the front window, waving past the now twinkling Christmas tree and HoHoHo-ing for all he’s worth. (We forget, I suppose, that this guy has fronted live bands and is no stranger to over-the-top stage performances, so despite the early hour (this was only midday!), he was in his element.) He knocks at the front door. We eagerly rush to open it – all of us except young niece who throws herself onto her father’s lap and sobs – “It’s the wrong Santa!” Panic ensues and the remaining Jillingses convene in the kitchen, deciding ultimately that this inferior Santa should disrobe immediately and we’ll all pretend nothing has happened. Best never discuss it again and carry on regardless.

On returning to the living room, we cheerily suggest Daughter J might like to explore the pile of presents under the tree and she begins to hand them out to a slightly nervous (and in places tear-stained) familial circle. Into which circle Son J, safely back in his Christmas jumper, boldly strides and announces “Have I missed anything? I was in the bathroom – that was the longest poo I’ve ever had!” – as the room dissolves in laughter, to massive adult relief and equally large cheered-upness from our junior member. No idea what we’ll do about Santa next year. 

There was also something of a palaver with an elf. The elf (of ‘elf on the shelf’ fame in previous years) emerged blushing from the tree decorations box, to horrified gasps from niece Jillings. ‘You can’t touch him,’ she screamed. Now, I was all at sea with this one and the other elderly J’s were variously trying to sleep or sensibly busying themselves well clear of the decoration rituals. Having no real clue as to what I could do next, and with the beady eyes of said elf boring right into mine, I grasped desperately for inspiration. I recalled that we would normally move the elf each evening so that he appeared on a different shelf or ledge each new morning over the Christmas period, or at least when there was a young person in residence who cared about such antics. So, I decided to lift him out of the decorations box and carry him carefully and ceremoniously up the stairs, ensuring that he did not ‘wake.’ Poor elf – must have got confused during his long sleep but we’d better put him somewhere dark where he could continue his slumbers. I found an obscure first floor understair cupboard (one of our finest house-design ideas, in fact) and lay him gently within.

The next day I remembered to move him before niece J was awake, and plonked him on a ledge above the hallway. At some point on Christmas Eve, he mysteriously migrated to a pewter tankard  atop the dresser overlooking our dining table and was joined in the adjacent tankard by a pink-clad female elf who had apparently flown all the way from the United States of Amelfica to be with us. Or more accurately, had been gift-wrapped to disguise her as one of the presents from American relatives and stowed away in Dad’s suitcase for the journey, thus avoiding awkward immigration procedures and forbidden pre-Christmas Eve appearances.

Once Christmas Eve had passed, we saw no more of this pink elf. She had apparently flown back to the North Pole, to return at Thanksgiving next year. This is all terribly important, and we were lucky to get away with our own sleeping elf. Niece J was ok about him because she rationalised that there had been no small children in our house since her previous visit for him to watch over. Clearly when she was last here over Christmas, aged only 7, she was less entrenched in such ridiculous stories (bah humbug, I hear you hurl at me) and didn’t register that the elf was still hanging around well past Christmas Eve – he probably wanted to make the most of the plentiful alcohol and mince pies on offer after dark, and of course we don’t do Thanksgiving over here. Now I’ve studied the story in detail, I will either forget it by next year (well, that’s more than likely) or the new Middle School-attending niece will pooh-pooh the whole rigmarole and deem us mad. 

Other highlights?

  • The making of a perfect roux sauce – tho’ I say it myself – using oat milk for the first time. I began to announce that this sauce was therefore vegan, when I realised that it would only be so if I hadn’t first melted a large cube of butter and finally added half a basinful of cheddar cheese to it. And in any case, it was now holding together various different fish chunks and several boiled eggs in my now traditional Christmas Eve fish pie – so why was that even relevant?
  •  The last-minute decoration of my Christmas cake by Daughter and Niece. In previous years, this has resulted in somewhat hit and miss affairs, but this time it was beautiful. We always use the same old Santa figures, but this time I’d found some festive sprinkles in Waitrose and presented these to the decorating team, expecting them to liberally and randomly ‘sprinkle’ them over the top. In fact, they created pretty little holly sprigs – clearly what they were designed for once I had thought about it – which was charming. Leaving the icing so late also had the benefit that it had not hardened into a carapace requiring pickaxes by the end of cake consumption time.
  • Daughter J’s cat arrived with her on Christmas Eve and stayed for a few days after she had disappeared for a well-earned New Year holiday with her friends. He has a very fancy litter tray which automatically sifts and removes any deposits (and counts them – a source of fascination, if not obsession, for his kitty-sitters), but he decided this was making life too easy for us, and challenged us to clear up a couple of alternatively-located offerings just to show us who was boss.

So now we are back to reality, an empty and still decaying house, but with the addition of a bird-table which is proving a massive distraction as it is perfectly positioned for viewing from my office window. 

Other than that, we are left to ponder a) should we eat the chocolate that our son left behind, or own up and send it to him and b) why is there a walnut and a long cardboard tube on every bed?




 

 

 

 

 

Solstice Belle

In one sense, this is a simple continuation of my last post: today there has been much scrubbing. 

Our guests conveniently caught Covid and postponed their arrival by a day, so they will now be arriving tomorrow morning – into the joyful embrace of a jolly border control strike (or not – I think I have some dates wrong here). Who knows when we will actually see them! Anyway, the flight was moved a few days ago and thus allowed me to enjoy a quiet Sunday on which to sniff and cough myself into a false sense of security that all housework would somehow get done.

I can tell you now – the house did not miraculously clean itself, nor did the beds make themselves or the presents self-wrap. Nevertheless, I am probably just about where I need to be on the preparation front. Importantly, the sloe gin has been successfully decanted and I can confirm that it is of a cracking medicinal grade (might keep it in my secret cupboard and hope everyone else forgets about it).

But today is, in my mind, the start of Christmas. Today is the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice – and my mother’s birthday. For the first 56 Christmases of my life, it was always Mum’s birthday just before the Noel. An extra present to buy, a day on which we felt guilty that she was (inevitably) running around like I have been doing today, preparing everything for a hopefully perfect Christmas, a day on which we would later phone to be sorry that we wouldn’t arrive until Christmas Eve with the kids and would therefore miss her birthday (on which of course she would be toiling steadily to get everything ready for our arrival) again, a non-birthday really.

At least we were always good enough to get her separate presents rather than making one item do for both birthday and Christmas. I don’t know whether my brother and I were carefully schooled in this by my father from infancy – I rather doubt it. It perhaps just seemed to us the least we could do, as we got to the age of actually buying them ourselves, when we knew that on her ‘special’ day she would be fretting about the mandatory ‘open house’ my father liked her to throw for his amateur drama group every Christmas Eve (for ever, it seemed, although it was perhaps just a decade or so in my most formative teenage and early adulthood…)

Mum’s last five birthdays were spent in a nursing home with Alzheimers. She always had a cake and presents, and it’s possible that both her offspring saw her together on the birthday itself for at least one of those years – although she wouldn’t have been properly aware if we missed the actual day and turned up the day before or after. On her final birthday – her 80th – she was dolled up beautifully and made a nice portrait with my brother. I’m sure she had no clue what all the fuss was about, but at least I suspect she was a whole lot less stressed than on most of her other adult birthdays.

It’s funny how it always seemed she was glad to get her birthday out of the way. I confess to having a similar approach to my own, although I have no Christmas-prep excuse, just bah-humbuggishness in my case. In a similar way, I tend to think of the 21st December as the shortest day of the year and thus a milestone to get past, beyond which there will be a gradual climb back into the light.

It’s good to stop and think though. And –

  • although it may have made me shed a tear or two in remembering, and
  • although I note that the orchid my work-colleagues sent me when Mum died has resolutely failed to flower for this solstice (having cleverly done so for the past 5 years – it is actually a miracle because I have never kept a house-plant so long, and in fairness it does have a nice bud coming – perhaps for New Year’s Day?), and
  • although I’ve now spent the evening writing this instead of wrapping a few more presents,
Mum as proud Granny!

I am glad to remember my motherly Solstice Belle on what would have been her 86th birthday.

Happy Solstice! Happy Birthday! Happy Christmas! 

80th birthday with my brother
Probably not her actual birthday!

Little scrubber girl

I think I have finished my Christmas present shopping, most of it in person in the shops. Perhaps the postal strike has had an unintended consequence in returning shoppers to the town centres. Or perhaps that’s just me. I realise that most retailers don’t actually use the Royal Mail, but we’ve had a fair number of thefts from doorsteps in our street and I don’t really trust half the courier firms.

Anyway, yay for the presents, and yay also for successfully stocking the food cupboards (and the hiding-places around the house where I may have secreted some of the snack items in order to reduce temptation before our guests arrive).  Even better, I have received an encouraging little email from Waitrose confirming that the particular turkey I ordered has so far not succumbed to bird flu and we can pick him up on Christmas Eve as planned. Hopefully he will have succumbed to something else by then (sorry, in poor taste I know – although obviously my guests will hope the taste is as good as in previous years. Oops, again sorry!)

On other preparation fronts, we are not quite there yet. In a previous blog, I mentioned the new sofa bed, bedding and curtains for my office. All are now installed, but not without considerable angst this week as I discovered the curtain hooks and sliders on the existing curtain track are so old they snap very easily, leaving me with insufficient to hang the new pair. After a couple of failed attempts to purchase replacements (these are VERY old and definitely not a current design) or a whole new rail system, I resort to a plea on the street WhatsApp group – this is, after all, precisely what such a group should be for. Within minutes of my post, I had three encouraging responses. Sadly, unless one hitherto unfamiliar neighbour’s friend in Colchester comes up with the goods (!), this has still not unearthed exactly the same shape of glider-thingy – but I am nothing if not resourceful and I have managed some sort of compromise using a few of the gliders and hooks which had not shattered beyond usefulness, and a few almost compatible donated gliders which I have coaxed into a delicate balancing act. Son J will need to be gentle with them, but I’m sure he will be happy to do so in return for enjoying the rather impressive-looking double bed I have beautifully magicked up for him (as long as he also remembers not to try to sleep on the tippy bit against the wall….)

I realise that the exuberant and positive vibe at the beginning of this post is somewhat ebbing away. In fact, it can ebb some more as I inform you that I spent half of this morning on my hands and knees scrubbing the kitchen floor to remove (or rather, TRYING to remove) a sticky residue left when I finally removed the masking tape which has been uselessly marking out our latest plan for the reconfiguration of our kitchen since September (a project which will run and run – just don’t ask). It turns out that (1) masking tape should not be left in situ for more than a couple of hours let alone a couple of months (humph – I know that NOW, but it doesn’t help at this point does it?) and (2) scrubbing frantically on all fours with a soapy sponge is not a recommended antidote to a streaming cold. After an indecorously sniff-filled but strangely not entirely ill-humoured hour or so I gave up the scrubbing, although not before I had established on a couple of patches that energetic elbow-grease would eventually do the trick. Thus I probably only have one-third of the wretched stuff left to tackle, so that’s something to look forward to when I feel a little less snotty – and hopefully before the clan descends.

And yes, it seems that I am already on my second cold of the season and I am not a happy bunny. I suppose on the plus side, my voice which had not completely returned after my last bout of coldiness, does not seem to have retreated any further down the octaves, so there is still hope that I will at least be able to belt out the tenor part of the better-known Carols from King’s as I peel the spuds on Christmas Eve – a ritual which is now just 7 days away and is an essential part of this hostess staying sane for the duration.

Don’t panic….

At least if I can coax my voice not to desert me completely, I’ll be able to sing along with the remaining scrubbing and am thinking to style myself the Little Scrubber Girl (à la Little Drummer Boy – ok, not ‘la’ but you get my drift) – 

Come they told me, a-scrub-a-dub-dub, A shiny floor to see, a-scrub-a-dub-dub, My finest elbow-grease, a scrub-a-dub-dub, To clean the mess with ease, a scrub-a-dub-dub, scrub-a-dub-dub, scrub-a-dub-dub, So to honour guests, a scrub-a-dub-dumb*, When they come.

Festive bleatings from this aspiring Rudolph.

Yours – OneCryingEyeAndOneRunningNose

All scrubbed out!

*Dumb possibly being the better option from the point of view of anyone else in the vicinity, but hey, it’s Christmas! Indulge me.

 

 

Pre-Christmas wins

 

It is less than two weeks until the first two of our Christmas guests arrive, and just 14 sleeps until Santa flies in.

I am not panicking. 

I could probably just cut and paste my blog from a previous year at this point and it would not be wildly inaccurate.  Same old, same old – hopefully without last-minute government intervention this year, but still possibly Covid or flu-affected just to add a layer of fret-inducing bother.

In my usual fashion, I lurch from confidence to dread and back again as the days tick past ever more quickly.  In an attempt to calm my nerves, I have set out my achievements so far. As a result, I am giving myself a virtual pat on the back – and hopefully if I continue with my Pilates efforts, perhaps in 2023 I will be able to give myself an actual pat on the back with my newfound flexibility – who knows?

So, here goes with the positives:

  • We have written and posted most of our Christmas cards (in the sure and certain knowledge that most of them won’t get there until Easter, and that many of our friends will have taken the more sensible approach and not bothered. We have received precisely zero cards through the post so far, which has spoiled my usual practice of scoffing at those which were clearly posted before actual December)
  • On the same theme – there was room in the strike-unemptied ‘priority’ postbox for my latest pile of cards (although in ramming them in, I inadvertently ejected several official-looking envelopes which it then took me several minutes to re-insert)
  • I have baked the Christmas cake (it looks burnt, but I think it always looks like this and I can shave off the worst of the charred edges before putting on the marzipan – if I remember where I’ve put the marzipan. I have wrapped the cake in greaseproof paper and foil and placed it on a shelf in full view, although this will not necessarily guarantee I can find it when it comes to marzipan day.)
  • I have successfully installed a new sofa-bed in my office so that Son J will have somewhere to sleep over the festive period. I have also feverishly ordered new bedding and new curtains for this room in an excited attempt to render it worthy of a Homes & Gardens shoot (if only I had refrained from painting tester patches on the walls 18 months ago, this room would look almost presentable, it being one of only 3 in the house which does not have some major structural fault or lingering evidence of previous disasters – as far as we know!)
  • I have finally been cast again as a Supporting Artist after fully one year of failing to be chosen, and have this week been fitted and styled for my role for a shoot in January (although all my work on The Crown Season 5 last year was clearly binned as there was no evidence of the scenes I was in at all, which is in fact more disappointing than not being able to see myself because I largely do this work out of curiosity rather than fame and like to see how the shots turn out. Also, last year I was cast as a Conservative Party faithful and this year they’ve decided I’m to be a Women’s Institute stalwart. Am I turning into my mother-in-law? Serious enquiry!!! To make matters worse, when I emerged from the changing room in my outfit (buttoned up blouse, chunky jacket and a kilt* (!!!), with sensible shoes and horrific tights, my fellow SAs waiting to be dressed all chorussed ‘Oh yes, that’s perfect!’ I’m trying, unsuccessfully, to take this as a compliment.)
  • I have amassed an enormous number of Nectar points during the year which I can now spend on Christmas calorific excess (fewer than last year though – I must be slipping)
  • We ordered parts and booked a bathroom company to instal a new shower before Christmas to replace the one which has leaked down into the kitchen (sadly, not all the parts arrived in time and the installation has had to be postponed until January. Mr J and I heaved the parts which did arrive – the heavier ones, obviously – up the stairs without breakage of either them or us, and hope that our guests appreciate the stylish way we’ve leant them up against the de-tiled bare plasterwork in what was previously a luxuriously spacious shower area which they will be unable to use. If they look closely they will be able to see an interesting detail of decades-old wallpaper, the uncovering of which gave some light relief to the otherwise somewhat testy exchanges between Mr J and myself during manoeuvres)
  • I have prepared sloe gin, which has been steeping nicely since September. So far, we have managed not to throw away the gin bottles into which the final product is to be decanted (there is still time…)
  • I have decided there is little point cleaning anything thoroughly until a couple of days before scheduled guest arrivals (this is a risk, of course, given that I could be stricken at any time by a lurgy which would render me incapable of cleaning anything in those final hours – I trust this is a risk that Mr J, in his backup role, is prepared for me to take)
  • In the ‘maintenance’ level of housework which is required in the meantime (I am not that bad!) I find that music helps and I engage Mr Spotify to make a playlist for me. And so it is I find myself cleaning the toilet whilst singing along to Abba’s The Winner Takes it All (obviously an octave lower than Agnetha) and then, as I swat away yet another new cobweb, I’m rewarded by the BeeGees with You Win Again. Truly I am winning at life! (although it does cross my mind that not only does Mr Spotify know what I’m doing and have access to my innermost thoughts, but also he has a worryingly cruel sense of irony)

So now I must drag myself away from such positive thinking and take some positive action or all this success will be wasted.

*another sign of ageing – one of the young dressers at Elstree who helped disrobe me and pack up my costume called across to her colleague to ask why there was a large safety pin on the kilt and could she remove it now? The other elderly SA in the changing room and I rolled our eyes theatrically (always hoping someone will spot our talent and give us a featured role – haha!) and explained that kilts always had those safety pins ‘back in the day’. A rare stylistic awareness on my part.

 

 

 

Escape to the country

The looming approach of Christmas always makes me nervous. The dark evenings and colder weather do not, in themselves, upset me as I know they do some people. But I do feel a need to escape at this time of the year, particularly from the relentless cheeriness of Christmas ads and far too early jollity.
 
So, I’ve had a short manic spell of gadding about before we have to hunker down for the onslaught of festivities. (Or rather, before we have the plumbing company come and refurbish our shower which, like so much else in the house, is currently defunct! – and, unlike the rest of the house, can’t just be cleaned and tidied in the hope that people will be able to turn a blind eye. More than tripling the occupancy for the best part of a week with no shower facilities might not be wise, even if we ARE all related.)
 
Anyhow…
 
At one day’s notice, I book myself a train to Barnstaple in Devon, and three nights in a town centre hotel at a bargain price so that I can complete two long but completely flat sections of the South West Coast Path. This will leave me with just over 50 miles to complete the path, which I plan to do in the Spring – hopefully with friends and family and, of course, to enormous fanfare!
 
As with previous short visits, I base myself in the middle of the two-day stretch which in this case conveniently has a railway station and a good local bus service so I can be completely independent. On the first day I take the bus from Barnstaple to Appledore and then walk back (approx 14 miles) and on Day 2 I strut out from the hotel, amazingly refreshed after a night’s sleep, and head for Croyde where I am  able to catch a bus back to Barnstaple. 
 
Not the most exciting of walks, but possibly the largest number of miles I have covered over two consecutive days on this path. For the first time on the path I listen to pod-casts and music to while away the hours, because much of the route is unremarkable, and there is no wave-crashing accompaniment for most of it. The route largely follows a disused railway line alongside a river estuary. This now serves as a bicycle superhighway according to friends who did this part of the path in high summer, as well as a route for the South West Coast Path. My friends got completely frazzled by the endless stream of lycra passing close by them. Fortunately, late November is not a busy time for cyclists in these parts, even at the weekend, so my encounters with mad bicyclists were few and far between, and almost all heralded by a tinkling bell or gentle vocal alert that they are ‘coming through’. Rather convivial in fact.
Even on the long straight bits, there’s always the sky
 
The first day I manage to reach my hotel before it gets dark and I have time for a quick shower before going downstairs for a pre-booked early supper. This is good and I’m early to bed to rest my weary, but still functioning, limbs. On day two, my legs are a little less impressed with my antics. Despite some upbeat tracks on Spotify, I am flagging by the time I reach Saunton Sands, a haunt remembered from my childhood. I stop and order myself the obligatory pasty (in fact a vegetable one which is presumably much healthier than the obligatory one) and stagger to some rocks at the nearest end of this enormous expanse of beach. As I munch, I idly watch a nearby bunch of ladies of a certain age (my own age, oh dear) potter down to the sea together in their brightly coloured cossies, bob around for a few minutes and then return to wrap themselves in those newly fashionable oversized drying/changing/warming coats, never stopping their friendly banter throughout. I wait for them to leave the beach before packing away my now empty paper bag and can of pop and attempting to stand. This is harder than I expected and I find that my legs have unilaterally (hmm, there are two of them – should that be bi-laterally? Either way, they did not involve ME!) decided that it is bedtime and they are not going anywhere till morning. This is a slight problem because I have at least one further mile to cover to reach the bus-stop for the return journey, and some of that will involve the only upward incline of the day.
 
Eventually, I bully the legs into a gentle limp across the sand and up into the dunes – well, I can’t just sleep on the beach because the tide is coming in. Silly legs – the very idea! Once I am above the high-tide line, I proceed to bribe them with a promise of Maltesers and a bath which gets me up onto the headland, which in turn seems to ease whatever muscles had seized and allows me to speed up a little as I realise how soon the bus is due.
Those legs- and the bag full of promised chocolate
 
At last, the finish is in sight and I throw caution to the winds as I almost hop and skip across a stream on Croyde beach to avoid a detour to a bridge upstream. Finally,  I haul my weary self across the road and towards a capacious and seemingly welcoming bus shelter. Phew! Just ten minutes to spare.
 
I am suddenly aware of a flick of a towel and a flash of a youthful ankle. My aching limbs grind obligingly to a halt, just in time to avoid a full-frontal encounter as my still lively brain (haha – if you believe that, you will surely believe anything) deduces that this shelter is being used as a changing room for post-dip teenage surfers. Waiting a short distance away and, of course, demurely averting my gaze, I realise that there is a small gang of youths taking turns in the shelter while the rest chat loudly above the sound of hip-hop music blaring from their open-doored car just across the road. 
 
I resist the temptation to break into song (predictably I don’t know the words) or sway to the beat (even swaying is a little beyond me at this point), and am more than somewhat relieved when the bus arrives on time. An initial pang of disappointment that it is a single decker, which means I won’t get my preferred views from the top deck, is replaced by realism and relief as my legs remind me that they are no longer talking to me and I had better not expect many more steps out of them today, especially not stairs. 
 
I’m now slightly scared by the level of seized-up-ness I experience on the very short stagger from the bus station to my hotel. I don’t recall ever being quite so incapacitated. Of course, I dutifully remove my boots at the hotel entrance and, rather than sensibly opting for the lift, I sneak painfully up the two flights of stairs to my room. (So there, stupid legs, you don’t win that easily!) Perhaps this helps a little, who knows. By the following morning it is as if I had never done those miles. How the body heals itself can sometimes be miraculous, and is certainly mysterious. And nothing whatsoever to do with the enormous number of chocolate biscuits and Maltesers consumed in bed in lieu of going out for dinner.
 
A couple of further observations from this trip which I wrote down immediately at the time.
 
(1) Breakfast at this hotel (Royal & Fortescue, Barnstaple – not as posh as it sounds but a rather nice family business) is served in an impressive former bank building which is a restaurant in the evening, and doubles as the hotel buffet in the morning. Here’s what I wrote in the heat of the moment after my last breakfast there  –
“It being mid-to-late November, the hotel is making the most of the upcoming season and has begun Christmas parties. There is a huge Christmas tree in reception, which looks a little different each morning as they tweak it – it’s certainly still not quite symmetrical to my mind – and last night there was a full festive dinner table laid in the private dining space. Carols playing and everything. This is great for the hotel and I wish them well. Not so sure I agree with the playing of horrendous Christmas tracks at breakfast though. I suspect it was not deliberate and I hadn’t the nerve to challenge them about it. The staff seemed completely clueless today – including greeting me at the breakfast check-in station with a ‘Are you here to check out?’ (Er, I’m not wearing my coat, have no cases with me, this isn’t Reception, it’s breakfast time and I’m in the breakfast area. Just tell me which table I’m supposed to sit at!), then saying « Thank you’ to me as I head for the buffet with the red red robin a bob-bob-bobbin along with me – as though they think I’m finished and off to my room. OK, so it was my third trip – perhaps they were dropping a hint – but who confines themselves to fewer than three trips, especially when one’s table is so small it can barely fit a plate of eggs and bacon and the cup of coffee and the toast they always bring at the beginning when I want to eat it at the end.
 
Actually, on the first day I was brought tea instead of coffee.  I spent several minutes wondering if perhaps I was so befuddled (it being 7.30am, a time with which my brain is no longer overly familiar) but I can’t imagine my subconscious or conscious mind would ever come up with ‘I’ll have tea please’ – no, not ever. Unless, unless, unless …”
 
(2) Part of the enjoyment for me in these trips is the journey there and back. I say that, but it is often not entirely plain sailing. Here’s what I wrote as I was propelled back to London by God’s Wonderful Railway. Apologies for the stream of consciousness rant.
 
Sitting on the train – already a bit miffed because the train is clearly not configured in the usual way (I know, I have done this trip or similar many times) and my reserved seat which is supposed to be in a Quiet Carriage is clearly not (like that worked well on the way down here, with a couple of biddies a few years older than me – probably – nattering at just too many decibels for me not to be able to tune out to read my book. I was actually reduced to selecting a White Noise option on my Spotify for the first time ever, and it was excellent – just like being on a plane, which in turn made me nostalgic for those days of overnight flights. As these invariably ended with a tremendous banging migraine regardless of the number of glasses of vino or complete abstinence, I’m not sure why I loved it so much.)
 
Back to my point – sitting on the train and trying to read my book now that I’ve settled in a seat which isn’t the one I booked, but nor is it the one that another chap had booked and turfed me out of (note – I didn’t even bother asking the bloke who was sitting in ‘my’ seat to move. None of the booking lights were working, and it was quite clear this was one of those free-for-all days – perhaps the staff enjoy watching the fights and seething power play that ensue.
 
This time, it’s not slightly-too-loud-but friendly nattering, but a furious woman who wants to complain to the world that the GWR ticket person at Taunton wasn’t very sympathetic when she couldn’t find her ticket, after having a dreadful taxi ride that nearly made her late, and didn’t help her by magically finding her ticket for her or waving her through without a ticket at all, and by the time she eventually found the ticket, which was down the side of somewhere or on her phone or something equally predictable, there were only nine minutes left to make it across the bridge to the correct platform. (NINE minutes? That’s about seven and a half more than most people would actually need – oops being catty now!). 
 
I hear this story related at length on the phone and then again when the onboard ticket inspector appears. Unlike his evil Taunton colleague he is a veritable paragon of patience and diplomacy. I would give this man a medal, or an Oscar, for his performance in which he does not for a moment acknowledge any actual wrongdoing on behalf of any of God’s Wonderful Railway staff, but manages to appease (and fortunately  finally to shut up) the aggrieved passenger.
 
And now, because I have stupidly not selected white noise again but allowed Mr Spotify to choose tracks for me, turned up loud in case there are more recounting of Taunton Station awfulness, I realise that one of my more surreal overnight flight experiences is being partially recreated in my ears by the random selection of ‘Shallow’ – oh dear, please let’s not go back there again! (Well, maybe to Australia, but not to those compulsive shallows.)
 
Sorely tempted to sing along. That’d show them. Give the stressy woman something else to complain about.
 
Just realised that tapping away at this iPad on the tiny seat-back fold-down tray is probably driving the person in front of me mad. I could already hear her tapping on her laptop, and she has one of those big tables. Actually, I can still hear her tapping in-between tracks of my Spotify playlist, and I could read it if I chose to peer between the seats. Probably writing about the annoying woman behind her who keeps sighing histrionically and is now banging away on the seat back.
 
Enough. Time for another adventure. More on that another day.
 

 

Mistakes, I’ve made a few…

The latest in an ever-extending line of mistakes wot I’ve made was to order a sofa-bed mattress protector for collection from John Lewis and then deciding that it would be a good idea to pick it up – along with a few groceries from Waitrose and yet another frock I’d ordered (I’m turning into a veritable clothes-horse after all these years of abstinence) – on foot, in the rain, without my bus-pass. They would have delivered it for free, and the chaps who last week delivered the sofa-bed on which it is destined to reside (on those rare occasions when my office has to revert to a bedroom) were delightful. But no, I can be a stubborn old biddy and why would I want to add another vehicle journey when I can easily waltz into Kingston with almost no carbon emissions at all?

Declining a half-offer of a lift in the car, on the basis that that would more than entirely defeat the object, I stride off purposefully in the early afternoon. My legs, which should be tired after being subjected to approximately 28 trudging miles in two days on my latest South West Coast adventure (more about which perhaps another time) turn out to be up for a bit of a jaunty scuttle into the town centre. My few other purchases made, I cheerfully present myself and my bar-code at the collection department. After a brief wait, the young male assistant returns with a medium-sized floppy parcel which I easily secrete in the bag with my groceries and – oh dear – an enormous shiny-grey-plastic-wrapped monstrosity which he heaves up onto the counter.

“Hmm, this may have been a mistake,” I declare. He looks concerned and surreptitiously checks the order number. “No, I mean, it’s about half a mile to carry this thing home.”

He looks confused. “Do you not have a car?”

“I have a car but it’s at home.”

Incredulous now. “Er, are you walking?!”

“Yup.” Silence. “I guess it’s not heavy though?” I say, as I grapple with the slippery wrapping and hoist the thing aloft to show that I am in fact much younger and more vigorous than I may appear. At this point, I realise that there’s a part of me – inherited no doubt from my father – that demands a sense of humour from those with whom I do business, at least if I am the customer in the relationship. And I’m really not feeling it here. Better get out before I’m tempted to say something properly ludicrous. Or offensive.

So I stride through John Lewis with as close to a swagger as I can muster and before I know it, I have reached the exit – and am already exhausted. Just that half mile in the wind and rain to go then. Haha – silly moo.

I make it home though, and am pleased to report that the mattress cover appears to be the right size and comes, as described, in its own packing-away bag (which is important). Also, the new frock seems to fit and I have already earmarked its first appearance – so that is all good. 

And now I am sitting back at my desk, the rain is heavier and there seems to be a bit of a gale outside, so perhaps the timing of my trip was not quite as bad a mistake as it could have been.

A mistake which is easy to make is forgetting to turn my phone to silent when I go to bed. I’m pretty good at avoiding this, particularly after working for many years in a fully global environment where messages were being received at all times of day and night. Of course, the offspring consider me completely mad for having the sound on my phone on AT ALL, EVER, but I am determinedly old in this regard. However, whilst exhausted after a long day’s walking and possibly overdosed on remedial chocolate last Saturday, I repeated this mistake in my Barnstaple hotel room.

It is most discombobulating to be woken in the middle of the night by Daughter Jillings’ helpful text, probably sent on arrival at home at the end of her shift, declaring that her favourite colour is orange. Just what I need to know at 4.30am. As it happens, this was a perfectly sensible response to a request from her uncle on our shared WhatsApp group, and not some random confessional message, but it had me confused for a while. Was this code for something I ought to remember? Fortunately, I return to sleep quite quickly rather than fretting. She has sent far more alarming messages in the dead of night, believe me! Eg. The time when her key broke off in the lock at the end of a similar late-finishing shift and she had to sit for hours in the bushes outside her flat, waiting for a locksmith. I slept blissfully through all of that. 

I’ve had almost enough of mistakes for now, but will quickly admit one more rather protracted one: I discovered this afternoon that we have been using a double duvet inside our King size duvet covers on our Kingsize bed – for 16 years! No wonder one of us ends up with an ’empty’ corner after a couple of nights! I have measured and re-measured in the last few hours, convinced I must be imagining this error and that if I measure often enough the dimensions will magically change to something that makes sense, but sad to say, the tape measure says the same thing every time. In fairness, this old duvet is a little more generously-sized than the newer double ones I have purchased for the guest bedrooms, but still…

After abandoning the tape, I thought I’d experiment. I’ve sneakily poppered our old duvet to another one I found (I think they are supposed to be a set – obviously yonks since I bought them) and forced this ridiculous amount of confined and now very ancient plumage into our duvet cover. This conveniently frees up a little more space in our over-stuffed cupboards, so RESULT! If you never see another blog from me, it will be because we have either melted or suffocated overnight. Making this yet another of my many mistakes – but I suppose it would at least then be my last.

(NOTE TO SELF – If we don’t perish, it may still be prudent to buy a new duvet. Apparently one is supposed to replace them every 5 years or so. That doesn’t seem very eco-friendly to me, but after all this time I can perhaps justify a new one, particularly as some of them use recycled and vegan materials etc. )

 

 

Trial and tripulation

‘Aunt Helga’ – the scary Ionos lady from the ads

This is a bonus post, by way of a trial to check that my website hasn’t been irretrievably blown up. After my last sorry and long-overdue post, I received a message from Ionos (the ones with the scary lady in the ads on TV, with whom I seem to have entrusted my entire body of online work) telling me that they had stopped all emails going out from my website because they had spotted a potentially problematic event: a mass mailing from me to umpteen people with ridiculous email addresses, mostly in Russia.  The timing of this was exactly when I published the blog-post, and I would normally expect a much smaller number of ‘push’ emails than the 200+ they were citing. Unless I had suddenly become all the rage in Moscow, this must be some sort of scam or attack?

As a result of their action, I am unsure whether my published post from 9 November was sent to those few stalwarts who have requested such notification. I am too scared of the Ionos lady to ask for her further advice, although I have been assured that she has reinstated my mailing capability now I have promised to clean up my site. I have in fact just deleted a load of names who purported to be on my ‘team’, and I am hoping that together with a couple of small updates to Plug-Ins (oh, get me! I know the lingo now – haha), all will be well. When I press Publish on this missive, we will see.

In the meantime, in just a few ever shortening days, my voice has disappeared and my head and lungs filled with gunk (technical term) which I believe is round two of a cold I almost fought off last week but then stayed up till 2am on two consecutive evenings which I knew was a mistake at the time but we were having a laugh, and ‘all work, no play ‘ makes Jackie a boring old fart etc etc. Serves me right I suppose.

A fascinating consequence of this pestilential interlude is that I have begun to whistle. I suddenly noticed with surprise that I was gently whistling today’s ear-worm as I dutifully marched up and down with the lawnmower this afternoon. (I know! Mowing the grass in mid-November!!! – and see below as to why I was not indoors recuperating). Was I subconsciously channelling the gardening neighbour whose cheery whistle allows us to determine exactly which garden he is tending on any given day? Slightly embarrassing, but possible. But no. An automatic switch must have been activated in my brain to engage ‘whistle’ whilst the singing gear is out of action. I realised I had in fact been doing this all day – slightly under my breath, but quite definitely a whistle – and had only become conscious of it when I feared someone might think I was taking the p*** out of the jolly gardener. (Which of course I would never do, as I rather enjoy hearing him when he’s doing next door’s shrubs.)

In addition to enduring the inconvenience of coughing, spluttering and lack of voice, to my extreme annoyance I have had another episode of lying on a cold floor – that’s twice in the space of three days, this time at home rather than in Boots and on this occasion contemplating the idiocy of trying to load a dishwasher whilst wearing slippers, rather than my inadequacy in the ‘having an injection’ stakes. Oh dear, I think this is what fellow oldies describe as ‘Taking a Tumble’. 

Mind the gap!’ – the offending slipper with its lethal domestic-appliance-trapping hook (???!!!?)

Yes, in a manoeuvre I am sure I could never repeat, I caught the front of my stylish animal-print bootee on some part (still unclear) of the dishwasher door and catapulted myself backwards onto the tiled kitchen floor. I sailed quite some distance and can remember vividly the extraordinarily long time it seemed to take for my old bones and (fortunately) ample flesh to complete their arc towards (but mercifully not quite onto) the sharp corner of the fridge housing, finally landing with a horrified squawk which I am pleased to say miraculously and uncharacteristically contained no actual swear words at all. Nor did this squawk, or the related heavy thud, seem to permeate far into Jillings Towers. Mr J remained on his Teams call upstairs, completely oblivious. I therefore had several minutes to lie there alone, contemplating just how much worse it could have been if (a) my head had made contact with the floor or the fridge,  (b) I had still been holding the dishes and knives I had just deposited in the dishwasher or (c) I had somehow recreated this trick in Boots in front of a captive and astonished audience. I also took a moment or several to wonder whether the numbness in my right hand, shoulder and buttock might turn out to be the harbinger of a visit to A&E later on, or whether I was just being dramatic. There was no-one to hustle me out of sight this time, and in fact there is underfloor heating (although we’ve turned it down so much this year it could hardly be felt) so I just lay there until I decided I was probably fine after all. Naturally, I am now pathologically apprehensive when approaching the dishwasher and may have to revert to old-fashioned sink and bowl operations henceforth.

So it seemed I was physically unharmed. Nevertheless, I have been looking out for bruises ever since, somehow needing hard evidence to prove I was not making the whole thing up. There was no visible evidence whatsoever of my mishap, apart from a slight misalignment of the dishwasher door which Mr J has nobly fixed for me. In the absence of garish bruising, I have just been trying – and failing – to work out which bone in my backside connected so violently with the floor and, in my attempts to isolate it by clenching different parts (sorry, best not to think too much about this!) I have discovered that whilst there may be no visible mark, there is most definitely some deep-tissue damage in there. Of course, this also gives me a delightful secret occupation for the next few days, periodically checking (by means of discreet little clenches) whether or not I am healed. I have perfected a completely serene facial expression to accompany this which I find strangely satisfying.

Sadly, I suspect that I will remain at home in isolation for the next few days until my cold (or, heaven forbid, Covid) subsides, so the surreptitious fun of the clench will be largely wasted (Mr J being notoriously unobservant at the best of times).

You might, quite reasonably, suggest that I sit quietly and rest for a couple of days to recover from whatever gunky nasty is invading me and to avoid any further accidents. Sadly, sitting still simply aggravates my stuffed-upness and I cannot do it for long. So I have plumbed the depths of my ingenuity to devise a safe perambulation around Jillings Towers, making careful use of banisters, ensuring my route is sufficiently well-lit – and, of course, whistling and clenching as I go. 

Although not usually superstitious, I am also hoping fervently that close encounters of the cold floor kind do not come in threes.

I’ll keep you posted.

 

Brassed off

Perhaps it is the newly-dark evenings, or the onset (finally!) of the unsettled seasonal weather, but it seems my creative impulses have been lacking of late. Indeed, the last time I sat at my laptop with the intention of writing some new and exciting bloggy stuff sadly coincided with one of those occasional days when ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING WAS AWFUL and I, probably wisely, thought better of the unreasonable rant I began to type and binned it, in favour of watching some inane TV.

I have no idea what prompts such horrible days. It seems sometimes that I am incapable of civilised exchanges, most of Mr J’s comments and suggestions being received with a snarl or despairing shrug – or worse, a curt and cutting return comment. On the most recent such day, I eventually developed a banger of a headache which was on the ‘wrong’ side of my head and unresponsive to migraine medication, so there was perhaps something chemical at play here. I don’t much like myself in these instances – which of course makes it worse! Fortunately, so far, such days are few and far between. (Mr J may disagree here – haha. It’s all a matter of perspective I suppose.)

Anyhow, here – finally – is a bit of a catch-up.

After a weekend of acting the glamorous groupie for Mr J’s band at the local pub and in an altogether ‘cooler’ venue on the Portobello Road, I determined to bring myself back down to earth a little and paint our front door. We have been the scruffy house on our side of the street for as long as I can remember – quite probably since we moved in nearly 20 years ago. Despite replacing the windows, and sorting out the front garden – both of which have vastly improved our frontage – our front door has remained resolutely chipped, scuffed, faded and slightly cracked. I filled the most obvious crack a few weeks ago in an attempt to bring the temperature inside the house at least up to that of the outdoors (this was unsuccessful because, apart from on exceptionally windy days, the cold comes up through the floorboards). Of course, this has left yet another blemish on the door because the filler is not the same colour as the paint.

Whilst making my way along the Portobello Road, I multi-tasked and cast my beady eye over the many brightly coloured terraced houses in the adjoining streets in an attempt to weigh up the pros and cons of different front-door colours to add to the ‘discussions’ at home. The making of decisions is not a strong point of mine, but when it comes to rooting out all possible alternatives to make the ultimate choice inordinately difficult, then I am the Queen of rooters.  Mr J seems to favour a high-gloss black for our refurbished front door (perhaps over-influenced by the far-too-numerous recent shots on TV and in newspapers of the ever-revolving No.10 portal) and I have ruled out white but failed to narrow it down any further. We are still undecided, and I suspect will end up with a ‘shade’ of black. I imagine Farrow & Ball do something like coal-miner-sweaty-brow which would do. Please note: As I am a thorough sort of a nerd and, of course, keen to root out those many alternatives, I reckoned I should check my references at this point. Thus I spent a few brief minutes this morning perusing F&B’s website. I am none the wiser. The only black they seemed to have was definitely not an actual black at all – and I had to go and lie down for a while after noticing that their colour-sample book costs £99. I mean, really?)

In the meantime, some progress is made in the preparation of the door for its paint job. On a quiet Sunday afternoon, I begin sanding with some heavy-duty sandpaper, believing that I can somehow trick myself into doing the whole door in one go (I am easily distracted, as will become evident). No sooner have I begun, than Mr J helpfully appears brandishing an electric sander which speeds up proceedings quite a bit, although makes my activity a little more noticeable, for which I apologise to those who may have been disturbed by it. The sanding reveals several different colours beneath the faded British Racing Green which has been clinging on for at least the last 20 years. I am contemplating leaving the door as it now is, mottled green, blue, white and salmon (primer from a bygone age) and raw wood. Perhaps we can be trendsetters in this?

A later accidental return to the Messrs Farrow and Ball website leads me to understand that they do indeed make a variety of different blacks: Off-black (so, NOT black then); Tanner’s brown (so, that’ll be brown then, NOT black?);  Paean black (praise be! but a bit poncey – and is it actually black?); Railings (which is described as a blue-based black – and is in any case, ridiculous, because railings can be painted any colour can’t they – and they were definitely green in Cheltenham’s parks when I was growing up); Tar (that’s more like it, as long as it doesn’t have the accompanying smell; and finally Pitch Black which I will acknowledge looks properly black to me.

I am glad I returned to this website, because I have inadvertently discovered a wonderful paint called Sulking Room Pink which I believe will transform my office, beautifully reflecting, as it does, my frequent state of mind therein.

Returning to my front door, I decide that the door furniture (letterbox etc) is inoffensive and functional so will not need replacing. However, it could do with a bit of buffing up. I am confident that the fittings are brass and also (fairly) confident that we have an ancient tin of Brasso lurking somewhere in the back of a kitchen cupboard. Triumphantly, I retrieve the rusty old can and, wielding an almost equally decrepit duster, I hasten to the front porch.

Within minutes I have rendered the small door pull around the upper lock mostly a shiny gold colour and am spurred on enormously. (Note ‘mostly’ – as usual I abandon it as soon as it looks shiny from the far end of the pathway.) My first tiny test of the letter box surround also proves successful – at least, in a small area. But this is a tedious task and after more than half an hour of assiduous buffing I succeed only in part. The top half of the letter-box surround gleams beautifully but the sides, bottom and the central flap are still mostly dark and dull. A passing neighbour helpfully suggests I use tomato ketchup, but by this stage I am unsure I want to waste a useful comestible on what now seems a hopelessly difficult and possibly unnecessary task. A quick look at a few neighbouring houses reveals that several others have allowed their identical door furniture to ‘weather’ in the same way as ours has done, and whilst they have been more diligent with applying fresh paint around it they have not worried about the lack of a gleaming feature. Of course, there are a few blingy silver articles among them, several of which I can see from just a casual glance must be far too small for even a modest envelope. From my vast experience of newspaper delivery (two whole weeks in 1975, I recall. I’m still scarred by the early mornings and scary dog memories in the steep lanes of rural Gloucestershire) I know that these tiny apertures are a complete pain regardless of shininess!

The final straw arrives in the shape of Mr J and his screwdriver, attempting to remove the whole fitting so that I can dip it in vinegar (a slightly more acceptable comestible to waste on this activity) or even Coca Cola. Halfway through the manoeuvre, it becomes apparent that the fixings are old and might not easily be replaced, so we hurriedly push it all back into place and I continue with desultory rubbing – until one side works itself loose and I fear the whole thing will disintegrate and leave us with a rough-edged hole in the door which will most definitely not help the draughts. I curse and blame – and fortunately manage to reattach things by hand without the aid of a man or his tools (and it’s all still in place more than a week later, please note).  

The last word in contemporary door design

A few more attempts, but I decide that enough buffing is enough and my performance having been decidedly lack-lustre, I am thoroughly brassed off with the whole pantomime.

So now the door is mottled, and its embellishments part-shiny, part-dull. It is a new fashion, I am sure.

I have cheered up today following the delivery of a sofa-bed for my office/Son J’s old bedroom and the completion of the related tidying, cleaning and reorganisation which have much improved my immediate environment,  spurring me on to complete this blog at last. 

And I am also boosted by the fact that today, unlike yesterday, I have not spent ten minutes lying on a cold grey lino floor in Boots contemplating my own inadequacies. (And thus the booster I was eventually given in Boots has had the desired – if slightly postponed – effect, I suppose. Big sigh…)

 

 

Trafalgar & Pirates

Ahoy me hearties!

I am in the midst of learning songs for an evening jolly in the pub tomorrow in honour of Trafalgar Day. I wonder how long my history-averse brain will retain 21st October as a date of such importance? Till sometime last week, I expect.

Anyway, the songs are beginning to permeate my grey matter and I am hopeful that ‘with a fair and fav’rin’ breeze’ I may be able to trill along with the best of them when we gather round the bar, endeavouring to obscure the view of the footie screens – unless, of course the screens are showing suitably gory black and white movies of sea-battles in which case we’ll stand well back and roar our offerings from the quarterdeck, or perhaps simply stand and gawp from the poop.

In an attempt to add detail to that last paragraph, I scrolled fleetingly through Google’s offerings with a ‘films about Nelson’ search and was surprised at several references to time spent on Robben Island. Fortunately even my history-lite logic eventually worked that one out and refined the search terms further. However, a few ‘poor Yorick’ misdirections then inevitably ensued…

As usual, at the first signs of progress in my learning of the words and music required, I down-tools and start on something else. In this case, it is at least related to the task in hand, and involves the creation of an A5 folder which will contain the words of all the songs, for clutching to what I will pretend, for dramatic effect, is my ample bosom whilst I sing. Of course I am not supposed to look at the words, and certainly not continuously, throughout the performance, but our leader has relented and allowed these discreet memory joggers. At this juncture I am once again briefly diverted to wonder whether our choir leader could on this occasion assume a Lady Hamilton persona (or Winnie? – no, sorry, wrong search thread dammit – thought I’d eliminated these references), but conclude that sharing a first-name is the only similarity here and there’s no evidence that Lady H might have stood on the quay warbling for her beloved, or indeed inciting others to do so down the pub. (Full disclosure, I’ve not bothered to look this up, so for all I know, Lady Hamilton was actually an accomplished musician, but there are times when it’s better just to fabricate a convenient lie, particularly when time is already short and I should be doing something else.)

When I drag myself out of this latest historical rabbit-hole, I scuttle immediately down another – this time researching a suitable font in which to print the folder cover. This particular search reveals that, for many many years, the name of Nelson’s ship ‘Victory’ – on display as a museum piece – was painted on its stern in a font which would have been unknown at the time of the famous battle. I therefore feel justified in my tedious (and as it turns out, somewhat inconclusively useless) online enquiries. These things really do matter! And my folder looks smart whether it has authentic character or not.

Clearly I need to stop this blogging study-avoidance and return to my song learning as time is running out for useful preparation. Truth be told, I’m waiting for Mr J to leave the house, so that I may march freely around Jillings Towers, one minute boldly declaiming a confident verse and the next gently muttering a dubious harmony, as I strive to embed all eight of the chosen works in my already overstuffed and sadly inelastic noggin. Occasional bursts of swearing may of course occur, but I am happy in the knowledge that these are almost certainly authentic in nature.

Of course, the big Trafalgar event will be over all too soon, but it seems that nautical experiences will continue a little longer if my online calendar is to be believed; apparently I will be attending a weekly Pirates course on Wednesday evenings throughout November. Who knew?

Pirates definitely beat Yoda any day.

 

 

 

Proud banana

Could I please have a quiet sit down now?

For a few days after my recent holidays, all was calm. Admin was done. A short period of reflection and relaxation. A couple of social events.

And then came the big weekend of ‘activity’.

A small charity for whom I volunteer from time to time had entered a team in our local hospital’s sponsored nighttime walk – A Night to Remember – which was in aid of their Bereavement Services.  This was originally due to take place while I was on my walking holiday, so I was not entered, but it was postponed because of Her Majesty’s demise. When I realised that I would now be able to take part, it seemed like a good idea; I am after all a bit of a walker anyway. There was a choice of five or fifteen miles, and being a glutton for punishment I opted for the longer of these. 

And so it is that I find myself at 7.30pm in the back of a neighbour’s car on the way to the start point, groping a stranger’s bum (as you do) to try and fix my seatbelt and wondering fretfully whether – even though I earlier performed a perfunctory brushing – my filthy walking boots might be depositing recent Devon mud and sand in the beautiful cream footwell of this upmarket car. I feel a weird presence at my shoulder, checking me out. Already sure I’m guilty of something, I realise with a jump that it is, in fact, a silent but very inquisitive dog clearly wondering why on earth all these unaccustomed humans have piled into his car.

After the obligatory sign-in, team photo and donning of charity lanyards – and a rather affecting completion of a ‘who I am remembering on this walk’ cardboard heart to hang on a remembrance tree (actual tears – pull yourself together woman!) – we are greeted by the Kingston Mayor for words of encouragement in the Market Square, and then released into the night – a chatty agglomeration of determined pedestrians.

The first five miles is a circuit taking in Thames Ditton and Hampton Court, returning to Kingston Bridge where the five-milers (several of whom are wheelchair warriors or boldly be-crutched) peal off to cross back into the Market Square and the brave long-haulers immediately confuse themselves in a small riverside estate where they mercifully just avoid the security guard before rejoining the intended route. Some serious misdirecting here, we still maintain.

Onward, and we are now firmly in a small group of four. I know one of these three guys well (it is his car I may have despoiled on the way), and have met one of the others several times as he is also a neighbour. The fourth man is the husband of a newish friend and I have not met him previously, but in our extended and gentle walking chat we find some common ground, perhaps surprisingly, in arithmetic (he’s a maths tutor and I’m a numerate nerd) and some areas for disagreement, mostly around where to cross the road. All good natured of course – and as we swap around during the six hours it takes to complete the distance, it is nicely convivial.

Once we have extricated ourselves from the private estate near Kingston Bridge, we trundle to Twickenham, past Eel Pie Island and along the riverside walk in front of Marble Hill. It rains quite a bit here, to our dismay, but unlike on my cliff walks I am able to deploy my umbrella which saves me from the worst of it. I think my fellow walkers consider this a sign of feminine weakness as they, to a man, stick with their hoodies, but I don’t care.

We reach Richmond via its bridge and begin a town circuit to build up the distance so that it will be a full fifteen miles by the time we are back in Kingston. There are biscuits and water on a support team table, which we nearly miss by taking some stairs at the bridge, but somehow we are caught and fed/watered and continue on our way. It’s great that people are willing to spend their nighttime supporting us in this way – it is around midnight I think at this point. They don’t even get the medals we will later be awarded for walking.

Circuit complete, we find ourselves back at Richmond Bridge and fight our way through crowds on the pavement outside some hostelry, feeling decidedly underdressed (or overdressed, depending on one’s perspective) as we marvel at the post-midnight activity through which we would all normally be sleeping. Engrossed in our conversations, and eagerly sharing thoughts on which of the enormous houses we have passed may belong to David Attenborough, we cover the small-hours miles.

Feeling I am on the home stretch now, I am surprised at how long it has taken us, but already encouraged at the proximity of the finish line. My three companions have not seemed impressed with my occasional ‘Are we nearly there yet?’s but I try it once again here. Still a muted response, but I sense some increased positivity…until, we notice a policeman in the road up ahead and one of those Do Not Cross tapes barring our way forward. There has been some sort of incident and we must make a diversion. Noooooo.

Collective local dog-walking experience apparently comes in handy at this point, as one of our number is confident he can navigate us around the footpaths, and we end up marching down what would, in daylight, be a beautiful avenue, grateful for our phone torches in the absence of any street-lighting or moon. The support team are all over this – pretty good effort here to ensure we are safe, and we briefly join with others who are taking the diversion.

At last, fully six hours after we set off, we reach the finish – an inflatable arch which has replaced the similar one which said Start when our feet were less sore all those hours ago. I will confess to being glad that we had a car parked nearby to make the journey home even though I would normally sniff at using wheels for such a distance. Strangely, I care rather less about muddying the footwell this time and the dog is not there to judge, as he only did the five miles and went home with someone else. Wimp!

As I sneak carefully into bed at 3.30am, no more than two hours before Mr J needs to get up to go to a rowing event, I realise just how much I hurt. It seems that I have reignited an annoying pain in I cannot tell exactly which part of my body – a toss up between my back, my hip, my thigh or my knee. I’m too tired to determine what medication or exercise might be best for this and make the most of a bad job by sleeping fitfully and grumpily until 9am.

With Mr J long gone on his own self-knackering mission (the Pairs Head this time, on the Tideway Thames), I ready myself for another big day of long distance mass fundraising. This time however, Daughter J is the one doing the distances and I am to provide enthusiastic support. Much to our surprise, the formerly least sporty of our small family has been persuaded to take up a charity place in the London Marathon.

It was  last Autumn when her employer suggested that all the restaurant managers could run on the Royal Osteoporosis Society ticket, the return favour being that the ROS get to base themselves in Daughter J’s restaurant on the day and, of course, collect all the dosh. So she has had plenty of time to train. 

Well, I say she had plenty of time to train and we had heard of a few tentative joggings during the year, but in early September with just a few weeks to go it seemed that no really lengthy runs had been undertaken. After an exhausting summer – when the heat was not conducive to moving, let alone running – including overseas trips for work and other people’s weddings, there had been too little mileage and rather too much alcohol in the training schedule to bolster anyone’s confidence of completing twenty-six-point-whatever miles. I had convinced myself she would be foolish to even try at this late stage, and on the basis that she would graciously withdraw, I had merrily enrolled in my nighttime walk (see above), in the sure and certain knowledge that I could enjoy a lie-in and a lazy day on the Sunday.

Haha – she is made of sterner stuff. And so, it seems, I too will have to be.

Shortly after I signed up for the Night to Remember, Daughter J appeared at our door having run the fifteen or so miles from her flat in North London. Despite wearing new trainers which were a full one-and-a half sizes too small, it later transpired, and never tackling such a distance in one go before, she appeared relatively unruffled and merrily downed a pint of water, executed a few gentle yoga poses on the patio and then wolfed down a couple of slices of pizza before walking to the train station for her return journey. At this point I realised I would not be fulfilling my motherly duty if I lounged around on Marathon day after all.

Of course, the London Marathon for the elite athletes starts much earlier than the race for the Masses and shortly after I wake from my painful slumbers, I am able to watch the improbably speedy progress of the leaders on television whilst shovelling in my porridge. Cue the usual Marathon music, and I start to become emotional. Oh lord, here we go. And it gets worse. I have loaded the TCS London Marathon App onto my phone and it pings to tell me that Daughter J has started her race. I sob – proper sobs. What the hell? Is this pride, or tiredness, or yet another late-effect menopausal irritation?

Not just any banana – a proud banana

I gather myself and set off for the train. I have promised to make an appearance somewhere in Canary Wharf and have plenty of time. As the train approaches Waterloo, I receive a Voice Note from Daughter J. Not a clue what she’s saying. I return the favour – she almost certainly can’t tell what I am saying either. Eventually she writes ‘Banana’. I am momentarily confused by a follow-up message which tells me she’s sad because she has already been overtaken by two rhinos. I don’t think rhinos eat bananas. But my immediate mission now seems clear: source a banana and deliver it to my best-deserving daughter so she can catch up with those horny-nosed beasts.

It is rare that I visit a branch of Sainsbury’s and come out with fewer than ten items, but today I am laser focused and emerge clutching just one banana (27p), diving immediately back into Waterloo station and down to the Jubilee Line. I can do this manoeuvre in my sleep (not necessarily with a banana) as it was part of my wet-days journey to work when I couldn’t face getting soaked on the two mile walk. This time, I resist the reflex to alight at London Bridge and instead journey on to Canary Wharf where I rise up to the surface, still dutifully brandishing my banana, to face a row of portaloos (noted for later) and a random milling of other supporters.

I have done my homework well. From here, I can walk to several different vantage points at miles 15, 18 and 19 – all key motivational spots as the possibly undertrained athletes begin to suffer and wonder why they ever thought this was a good idea. From a glance at the tracking App, I see that Daughter J is approaching mile 15 and I break into my own unseemly staggering run to meet her before she disappears. Within seconds of my arrival, she is there – I spot her on the far side of the stream of humanity passing by and valiantly wave my trusty banana. She gives a little leap and a large smile and threads her way towards me. Oh this is marvellous! Such pride in my little girl who seems not to be suffering anything like as much as I would have expected. She devours the banana and I happily take the skin to dispose of sensibly later. She says she’s a little tired, but shoots off again with a definitely springier step than many of the others around her at this point. I have reminded her that the rhinos train hard for the event, and she confirms that she is ‘over’ worrying about wild animals overtaking her at this stage. This is, I believe, my proudest banana-related episode – surpassing even my triumphant creation of banana-bread mid-lockdown.

Laughing through the pain?

We make similar, though banana-less, rendezvous twice more in the maze of Canary Wharf streets. For my longest wait, I lean on the barrier and watch several unicorns, more rhino and even a chap with an ironing board and iron strapped to his back pass by. Beside me, a similarly-aged lady explains with interesting visual code exactly where runners need to apply their vaseline – to a horrified younger woman who wonders whether it would have been preferable for her mother to actually say nipples and inner thighs rather than using exaggerated mime.

After a last enthusiastic wave at Mile 19, I return to the tube station via the conveniently placed portaloos. Whilst waiting in the orderly queue for these facilities, I overhear others bemoaning the lack of paper within. The family in front of me share out supplies produced by ‘mum’ and I smugly recall that I too have been carrying the last few metres of an ancient toilet roll in the top pocket of my rucksack for years now for just such an occasion and finally that infinitesimal extra weight will be justified. (And it was.)

Meeting up with Mr J in St James’ Park is a little easier than anticipated (previous years had shown the mobile networks unable to cope at this point), and together we greet our amazing daughter after she has collected her medal and her belongings. Remarkable achievement, and she is still able to walk faster than either of us as we all make our way to Covent Garden and the glorious cheers which are raised as she walks through the doors. A few tequilas later, I’m not sure anyone would realise quite how her day had been spent, apart from the medal around her neck.

We leave her to it and I limp gently over Waterloo Bridge to catch the train home. The sunset is my reward. And the half-hour wait for the next train my punishment for walking so slowly whilst gawping at the view and missing the one I should have been on. I’m getting used to this – same happened when I did my pre-funereal walkabout. Will I never learn?

I don’t care. Proud mama – and at least I’ll be too late home to cook the tea so we can just carry on snacking.

Just to show off my late-night achievement, at the finish with my co-walkers

 

 

 

 

Majestic confusion

I went on holiday. I had a birthday. The Queen died, and the world went mad.

The holiday was geared around my intended walking progress along the seemingly never-ending South West Coast Path. In this respect, it was successful as I am now within 80 miles of the end and reckon just two more visits will suffice. A mere 22 years in the achieving! I have written about it on my holiday blog which has been sadly neglected these last 18 months.

The birthday – an insignificant one which I had decided to largely ignore – proved a more momentous day than anticipated. I had decided not to walk; the weather was not particularly pleasant and I had already made good progress along the cliffs.  My daughter sent me a congratulatory message with what I felt was an odd statement after the traditional birthday greetings – ‘Hopefully the Queen can hang in there for another day.” Of course, I resorted immediately to Twitter for an update, and there was indeed considerable speculation regarding events at Balmoral. Oh, here we go again, I thought idly. Speculation speculation… Then my son called and we had a nice birthday chat, ignoring the impending gloom in favour of recounting our latest respective exploits.

A little later the inevitable was reported and we were plunged into constitutional mourning. I confess to feeling far more upset at the news than made any sense to me, and Daughter Jillings sent a few horrified emojis and condolences to me that such a blight could have been put upon my special day – but admitting that she was sending her greetings from outside Buck House itself to which she had raced when it became clear that trade in the normally busy Covent Garden restaurant business had fallen eerily quiet for the day. I was shocked, a little proud, and weirdly envious of her being there.

Mr J and I returned to our books and steadfastly refused to put the television on until the usual late night News o’clock. I am glad we waited; from then onwards, the media mourning onslaught was truly and often horribly relentless.

My own two-penn’orth on the Queen’s demise? Well, I experienced a strange bewilderment at the passing of something vaguely comforting, something perhaps representative of my parents (themselves now long-deceased) and their generation, with all the historical experience that enfolds. As more and more news coverage droned on respectfully, and when watching the various vigil events and ultimately the funeral, I realised I have more than a superficial knowledge of the royal family which I seem to have acquired without study or seeking out. Some will inevitably have been gleaned from Hello! magazine, perused guiltily at the hairdressers’ when I was still in thrall to the fortnightly tint and before I realised that I could take my own book and read that quietly instead. But much harks back to my childhood, the general interest taken by my mother in royal news, and perhaps the fact that Princes Andrew and Edward were very much of my own age. Indeed several of my friends were quite convinced that if they could bump into Prince Andrew at our local racecourse – Cheltenham – then their royal future would be secured. Horrifying to think how that might actually have turned out. Of course, we got no closer than the other side of the course! The weddings of Anne and Mark Phillips, Charles and Diana, Andrew and Fergie were all at a time when I was probably at an impressionable age, even though I was not keen on marriage for myself at that point. These people, whatever I thought of them at the time or think of them now, were part of the backdrop to my life, and of course the Queen had always just been there.

Initially there were actual tears – completely odd. I suppose it was some sort of secondary grief for my parents. No idea really. For the rest of our holiday, the walking and the arrival of Son Jillings was unaffected by constitutional events and, aside from sporadically enduring the wall-to-wall royal coverage on all media, we carried on regardless.

Later, after returning home and when watching the funeral on television, I think it was quite understandable to weep a little. That’s funerals for you, and often music can do that on its own anyway. Mr J and I sat in complete silence in our living room for the entire service, along with a friend who was staying with us as one of the consequences of his very own annus horribilis. Like the BBC, we opted for the ‘no commentary’ rule (although we did not explain this to each other beforehand as the BBC felt compelled to do), and even more remarkably all three of us – singers all, and none of us normally reticent in humming along to a good hymn – made not a sound throughout. My Fitbit later told me that I had slept through the entire thing, so I clearly didn’t move much either. A bizarre but undoubtedly moving experience, as no doubt all of us internally recalled more personal funeral services of our own and felt the unsettling lifting of some strange weight of our collective history.

I had resisted the urge (in fairness, only a passing thought) to queue to file past the coffin in advance of the funeral, even though I have a strange fascination with the word ‘catafalque’ and it would perhaps have been cool to witness one. I did, however, trundle up to London on the day before the funeral for a walkabout. I cannot completely put my finger on why I wanted to be in the midst of this national show, but I suppose it is an “I was there…” thing. It almost makes more sense for the younger people to do this than me. When they reminisce to their grandchildren (if there continue to be grandchildren, or face-to-face contact with them, in our uncertain world’s future) this may seem a much more unusual and archaic event at which to have been present than it will be if I bang on about it to my own imaginary progeny in my own now fairly limited lifespan.

Less then 24 hours later, the procession went through this arch. B&W for nostalgic effect.

Anyhow, I went to London and I am glad I did – and not only for the vast number of Fitbit steps I accumulated. I navigated several pedestrian one-way systems in the key ceremonial areas being prepared for the funeral as the huge number of overseas dignitaries descended on the capital. Never have so many sleek (or chunky) tinted-windowed black vehicles – with or without diplomatic or unfathomably personalised registration plates – prowled or faux-majestically swept through London’s thronging streets. How many outriders could I spot in just 10 minutes? How many high-vis-jacketed crossing monitors were on duty? It seemed the 2012 Olympic volunteer brigade – now ten years older but still with their cheery smiles, perhaps a little muted for current circs – were back in force and oiling the wheels of this impending pageant.

Reality of huge number of public in the parks

Alongside the awe I felt at the scale of the preparations, and the recognition that I was witnessing history in the making (or some such cliché – but cliché or not it is annoyingly true), there was plenty of reality going on to bring me back to earth. For example, the policeman politely but firmly dressing down a smartly-attired, if slightly wobbly, gentleman who had clearly just availed himself inappropriately of a quiet shop doorway. Or later, a couple of Community Support Officers gently guiding a voluminous sleeping bag – its erstwhile itinerant occupant still loosely attached – away from the most public gazes and cameras outside the Abbey precincts.

Naked floral tributes in Green Park

I went to see the flowers in Green Park, following the signs and the crowds and the exhortations to ‘remove any plastic’. There was a fascinating entry system to the allocated flower area, depending on whether one’s flowers were au naturel or cellophane-wrapped. As I had come clutching only my old people’s railcard and my phone, I lurked awkwardly outside the enclosure, taking pictures and wondering how best to get home. Why I then decided that the best bet would be to walk to Waterloo via Soho and Covent Garden and the still-going-strong catafalque queue passing along the South Bank, I am still unsure, especially as I was wearing my once-smart boots which are good for the first 3 miles but pinch thereafter (and this was now very much thereafter). But that’s what I did, and I was rewarded by missing a train by two minutes and having to wait a further 28 for the next one, this being a Sunday.

I acknowledge that my feelings about all this royal mourning business are decidedly mixed. Yes, I was genuinely sad although about precisely what I am unsure. I think I believe that the Royal Family bring in a great deal of money to this country through tourism, and that they contribute worthily to many charitable institutions. I am not in favour of abolishing them, although a slimming down most definitely makes sense. Equally, I think I’ve had enough of the press coverage for now, thank you.

Rightly or wrongly, the Queen represented a past generation and its values, many of which are no longer tenable. It seems reasonable to mourn her death, and the consequent end of that generation, in the same way we might mourn our own grandparents even though we may have argued vociferously with them about their views on [insert whatever bigoted or misguided notions about which your granny regularly banged on]. As an institution, the monarchy may seem outdated, but I don’t see why it cannot drag itself successfully into the twenty-first century. And whilst accident of birth may seem the wrong way to select a figure-head, we really haven’t had a lot of success in choosing our elected leaders have we? 

In the interests of balance though, here’s a blog post from an acquaintance which I read on the day of the Queen’s funeral and which briefly incensed me (before I acknowledged that I completely agreed with some of his comments regarding the press-coverage – particularly of the great British catafalque queue).

https://myenglishtraits.substack.com/p/lying-in-state

Back on the fence Mrs J.

Meanwhile in other news, I have succumbed to the lure of the M&S ‘full brief’. Whilst so far just the one, purchased for wear beneath a particular outfit, I fear this may herald a lingerial slippery slope. Truly a new era begins.

 

Mrs Angry

I APOLOGISE IN ADVANCE FOR THIS ONE – EVEN WITH A FIERCE EDITING INTENT, I CANNOT HELP BUT MITHER ON TOO LONG. 

I may be of a generally grumpy disposition, but I am not usually angry. In fact, my resignation to some of life’s inconveniences or unfairnesses may sometimes be a negative trait, as it means I don’t strive for change when that might be useful.

This week, however, I have found myself strutting around on my high horse over two separate issues. (Strutting?  Maybe even cantering.)

Firstly, a ridiculous situation at a regatta where Mr J was competing in two events. He has won so many pots and medals over the years and I have seen so much racing and shouted so many hoarse and unladylike encouragements, that I generally don’t go along to support any more. But, despite the inconvenience of an early start – necessitating dragging myself out of bed at a time I rarely see unless there is the promise of the seaside – this time I decided to go along for the ride. 

The double were due to race first – that is Mr J and his partner Chris. The rules stated that competitors had to locate their opposition before going afloat, to ensure that there was no hanging around at the start of the race waiting for late-comers. After a small search, the oppo were found, both boats were carried down to the water and Mr J and Chris set off as the other crew began clambering into their boat. Quite a long wait ensued. Perhaps there had been a delay. I took the opportunity to wander around the boating area a little and by chance I overheard someone talking to Race Control. It seemed they were from the other crew who were supposed to be racing Mr J. At this point, I suppose I should just have walked away and not become involved, but I genuinely thought I could help. 

It seems that the unfortunate crew who were due to race against Mr J and Chris had realised, after going afloat, that there was a problem with the way their boat had been rigged, so they took their boat out of the water and didn’t proceed to the start. Our brave fellows were unaware of this and presumably paddling around in a holding pattern up beyond the start, unable to return or compete. Annoying in itself I suppose, but Mr J was in fact due to race again in his single scull. There should have been plenty of time for him to do both events, but with this unexpected hold-up he was in real danger of missing the time-slot for his single race and being disqualified.

I tried womanfully to explain this to Race Control. The man in charge was having none of it and viewed my womansplaining with a blank look of superiority. A female official by his side, handing out race numbers (and prizes, we later discovered) looked at me with what I took to be sympathy, but she was clearly not empowered to sway Mr Race Control. Unbeknownst to me, the doubles crew opposition had been advised to go afloat again and make their way to the start, thus delaying Mr J yet further from his later race.

I made similar explanations to the woman marshall who was officiating at the riverside as the sculler who was supposed to be Mr J’s single opposition was attempting to go afloat. Both these parties seemed sympathetic and understanding of the situation, but Mr Race Control advised via radio that the single sculler should go ahead and wait for his opponent – and if Mr J didn’t turn up within the next 5 minutes he would be disqualified. Apparently they didn’t know where Mr J was! I was incensed. I had pointed out exactly where Mr J was and explained precisely the situation. The marshall didn’t know what to say –  I promise I didn’t shout or swear, but I was completely certain that Mr J would more than make up for that on his return, so I made a few energetic remonstrances. To no avail.

In fact, our heroes had their race and returned victorious, and Mr J was surprisingly relaxed about his disqualification from the second event. My own anger and frustration had initially been based on the premise that he was being held pointlessly at the start for one race which would not take place (although of course mercifully it did), whilst simultaneously failing to turn up for a second race. Latterly, of course, I was furious that I had been comprehensively and blatantly ignored. I began to explain all this – in increasingly heated terms – to our conquering heroes, at which point Mr J laughingly pointed out that this was a rare occasion when he was keeping his cool rather better than I was. Fair.

We let it go, but I noticed, as the medals were later handed over by the nice lady in the Control tent, a gently knowing look in my direction on her part. I didn’t rise to it – no point. We’ve got too many medals in the house anyway! 

My second high horse episode is proving harder to dismiss – and in fact has just contributed to an uncharacteristic failure to remember what I was supposed to be doing this morning! (So there’s another reason to be annoyed because I’ve missed out on a singing workshop I was looking forward to attending!)

After many years of use for practically every purchase I make, my John Lewis Partnership card is being cancelled from the end of October. I realise this is nothing personal – they are changing provider and closing down their old cards. Fair enough, I thought at first.

Then I started seeing comments on Twitter that long-standing customers were being refused the new credit card or given tiny credit limits. Like me, they typically described using their card for everything, supporting a high credit limit in the past and paying off the balance in full every month. I returned to the email I had received and checked all the details on the existing card website and realisation dawned.

It turns out that I have to apply for the new card as though I am a completely new applicant, with no consideration given to my existing credit limit, my purchasing history or my loyalty. As a lady of leisure (hahaha), having jacked in my lovely salary and living largely on my savings and tiny unscheduled amounts of self-employment income, I realise this is not the best time to try and persuade a new organisation that I should have a large credit limit. I did not expect to need to do so.

My existing John Lewis Partnership card has a high limit, and it gives me John Lewis/Waitrose vouchers as a form of cash back. Because of these advantages, earlier this year I chose to keep this one and use it for everything from the smallest coffee purchase to the largest holiday booking, cancelling another card I rarely used but which had an even higher credit limit so as to reduce the number of accounts which could potentially be open to fraud etc. The end date on my Partnership card was way into the future and my impeccable repayment record would guarantee its continuance – or so I assumed at the time of cancelling the other card.

So now the loss of my credit card feels much more personal. This is most definitely a first world problem and I need to get a grip, but I’ve become consumed with irritation as I surf social media for further irate comments and feed off other people’s apoplexy. Yes it will affect my day to day life if I cannot get another card with a similar limit, but not in any truly existential way. Still I bridle (from my high horse! What is it with these equine references? I don’t even like horses.) at my treatment.

Oh dear, now I’ve just seen a suggestion on Trustpilot or some such similar e-place I currently seem to be frequenting, that we orchestrate a sit-in at one of the John Lewis stores to vent our collective spleens on this matter. The mind boggles at the very thought of all those smart, middle-aged, sensibly-shoed and usually mild-mannered protesters waving ‘unaccustomed-as-we-are’ neatly painted and correctly spelled banners (on unbleached natural fabrics, of course) in the faces of bewildered JL partners in the Sewing, Knitting & Crafts section, or – heaven forbid – in the nearest Waitrose Fine Wines aisle.

I think I’ll just stay at home and think of suitably pithy new anti-slogans for JL to replace their recently retired ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ strapline. (Rather Knowingly Underhand? Never Caught in my Underpants?  – Clearly getting silly and deranged now.)

I could have done with a good sing this morning.

Rantity, rantitty, RANT!

Postscript – I’ve realised, after a brief walk to the shop and back, that my ‘anger’ in both the instances described above is mainly a frustration at my own impotence. I’m unable to make myself heard. I’m also faced with facts which I cannot change. The rules of the regatta were different depending on the category of racing – quite fairly so, as it happens – and thus the double who missed their start were not disqualified, but the single sculler was. (There was no subsequent race for the winner of the doubles class – it was a straight final of a race in an ‘assisted adaptive’ category meaning that each crew had one fully able-bodied competitor and one with an impairment – so there would be no unfairness arising from lack of time to prepare for that later race if the earlier winner had been delayed.) It was the lack of acknowledgement of what I was saying that got to me. And the lying about it too, I suppose.

Similarly perhaps,  John Lewis is within its rights (probably, although I may look this up just to be 100% sure!) to move to a different financial organisation to provide its credit card without rolling forward the benefits currently enjoyed by its existing customers, and I am just unfortunate – along with, I suspect, thousands of others of like circumstance – that their decision coincides with a point in my life when I no longer command the perks to which I have become accustomed. 

Enough, and cheer up! There’s pre-holiday ironing to do.

 

 

A heavenly summer?

As the heatwave continues it is weird to see my neighbours’ children living my own vivid recollections of the long dry summer of 1976. I lug my tatty plastic watering can around the garden every evening, and I catch myself wishing that the pinkening sunset sky would at least have a go at gathering a few clouds to produce a shower overnight. Typical – never satisfied! (Post script – it has now rained which is perhaps why I have managed to summon up the energy to finish this post.)

We are lucky that our house remains tolerably cool, at least in parts, but we also had the chance to escape the London suburbs twice in the past couple of weeks.

Firstly, we drive for four hours to the Norfolk coast for a weekend with Mr J’s cousin and his wife in their static caravan. We are thus transplanted immediately (well, after four hours of driving, which I suppose is not technically immediate) into a whole new world. My previous experience of static caravan parks has been a little dispiriting; an appearance over the latest coastal ridge of sprawling white boxes covering a once rolling green sward offending my sense of natural beauty as I march endlessly on my South West Coast Path mission.

Here, however, I am predisposed to enjoy the generous invitation and we are swept through the entry gate in VIP style, attaching our “We’ve checked in” dangly sign to our rear-view mirror and carefully following our host through the winding site roads to the quiet corner where his home-from-home is located.

The site is enormous and I am immediately disorientated, unlikely ever to find my way back to the entrance I fear. I later disprove this theory and manage a walk unaccompanied to view the beach and sea. 

A tired reveller?

Inside the ‘caravan’ is a full Tardis experience, and a gentle (no, actually, quite a brutal) reminder that it is possible to keep a place completely box-fresh and beautiful even when spending considerable time in it. Whilst this place is not old, it has been used by our hosts and their offspring and young grandchildren for at least two seasons – and has not a scuff-mark or breakage to show for it. I secretly dread to think what this couple thought of my own scuzzy abode when they stayed with us a few years ago. Even though we had a weekly cleaner back then (and ok, I am not completely unhygienic or untidy even now), our place must have seemed terribly ‘tired’.

More importantly, this ‘caravan’ accommodation is attractive and comfortable. Our nearest comparison is the selection of rented recreational vehicles /mobile homes in which we have occasionally holidayed over the years. This is in a different league entirely. Also, it becomes obvious very quickly that we are not expected to lift a finger all weekend other than our trigger fingers on the pre-booked rifle range activity.

Caister beach accessed from the caravan park

A delightfully care-free and chat-filled weekend ensues. We are not tempted in the slightest to invest in a second property of any sort (lord knows, dealing with the one home we already have is more than enough), but we can completely see why this particular investment by Cousin P is such a hit.

A few days after our return from Norfolk, we embark (literally) on a narrow-boat adventure in the wilds of Surrey with our adult offspring. We have form for this sort of thing, having dragged the unfortunate progeny up and down various canals in France when they were teenagers, resulting in Daughter J’s only reliable French phrase (‘Ne sautez pas dans l’écluse. C’est très dangereux!’ as a result of my yelling this angrily at foolhardy French youths) and an enduring nightmarish memory of Son J’s ‘incident’ with a lock-paddle handle (best not go there) – but this was to be a gentle way of spending a day together loosely in honour of Mr J’s birthday which occurs sometime around this time of year. 

A Jillings operated lock

I decide to avoid the narrow-boat crew briefing on the basis that I am perfectly capable of steering such a craft (probably) and all the other crew family members are bigger and stronger than me, and should therefore do most of the work. I make a desultory attempt at decanting some of the food and drink from our various cold boxes and bags, but discover the on-board fridge is maxed out by only a fraction of our generous comestible rations, and go for the ‘they’ll be alright where they are’ option and instead test out the seating arrangements.

Once under way, we all revert to our ‘en famille’ norms – Mr J at the helm, Mrs J floating aimlessly around whilst Son and Daughter lark about a bit. In fact, the locks are negotiated splendidly with very little ‘sautez-ing’ and certainly none actually into the écluse. I find I am less fretful than on previous occasions, trusting that these young adults will likely have more sense and coordination than their younger selves. Daughter J is sporting very stylish canary-yellow trews and white blouse, which she miraculously manages to keep clean despite energetically operating lock-gates, sitting on the grassy banks and generally clambering around as required. Remarkable! Whose child actually is she?

I allow the others to take turns at the helm and my sole boating contribution is to hang onto a rope whilst we are rising or falling in the locks, and throw (rather well on this occasion) or catch (rather less reliably than throwing) same rope as needed. 

‘Viking’ hired from Farncombe Boat House

The views alongside the Wey Navigation are gorgeous and we spot a kingfisher, at least one heron and many many dragonflies – along with geese and cattle and the occasional tow-path rambling or SUP-ing human. A few other narrow-boats are out and we share locks several times with one – all amicable. We encounter a couple of lively groups of children, prompting the use of the French phrase under our breaths a few times but no need to use out loud, and one spectacularly stupid youth jumping from the very top of a large tree into the water, fortunately without serious consequence.

Lunch is a triumph as I wheel out a seemingly endless supply of dreadful picnic foodstuffs – until we realise that there is far too much for the small deck table (which I single-handedly assemble, to no cries of congratulation at all, which is a slight disappointment) and some of the tastier-looking items are less appetising than anticipated. No doubt when I am next required to provide a picnic spread I will make exactly the same mistakes again – I am quite predictable in this way.

A lovely day is had by all and the offspring return to their respective over-warm homes up in the smoke while Mr J and I collapse in front of the television in clammy suburbia.

As I record this, I realise that I am rhapsodising (I just checked and that IS a word) more than usual about these recent events.

From further memory delving, I now understand why.

On our first evening in Norfolk, my Fitbit had some sort of actual fit and ate its own battery. It buzzed and displayed peculiar messages but my random pressing of its many invisible buttons had no effect. By Saturday lunchtime it had given up the ghost completely and, as I had not thought to take the very specific charger it needs (because it should not have needed charging), it spent the remainder of the weekend in darkened silence on my wrist where it had to stay because I would otherwise have revealed the lily white strap mark I have allowed to develop there. Not cool.

So now, according to Fitbit, I have been defunct since Saturday … and thus presumably all of my subsequent events, activities and thoughts have been heavenly.

Hmm. Perhaps it’s just the heat.

 

A whole new world

What just happened? What is this feeling?

I was quietly doing my crossword, minding my own business whilst Mr J did the heavy lifting of actually watching the footy on TV.

At half-time, we brought in our cold supper, and I started a sudoku – noting with amusement that Mr J had not, on this occasion, nodded off as is his usual practice when watching sport on TV after tea.

With half an eye and one ear, I registered that we had gone to extra time. Now, I know this to be the usual pre-cursor to a penalty shoot out which the Germans will inevitably win. I sigh, and wonder if perhaps it would be preferable to pop out to the shops. It’s always the same…

I may not follow football, but all my life I have ‘watched’ Match of the Day (usually whilst doing something else) and I am quite sure that I have been awake for more of it than Mr J in recent years.  It somehow percolates the brain cells – whilst possibly slowing down my crossword progress. I do, in fact, know most of the Premiership managers’ names (although not necessarily which club is currently paying them), most of the grounds (although in many cases would be unreliable in naming the relevant team or city) and quite a few of the players’ names, especially if they sound a bit mad.  I never recognise these names when I see them written down, only the way the commentators say them. I still think O’ Bam o’yang! is my favourite.

But I digress. Back to the match/sudoku, and it was all getting a bit tense. Extra time was going quickly, and I was worriedly trying to concentrate on the sudoku instead. Then England scored – and Chloe Kelly took her shirt off. Uproar in the room! ‘Now, that’s why I watch women’s football!’ cries Mr J – referring of course to the skill of the goalscorer. (I quietly reflect on the, possibly similar, reasons I have been known to watch men’s rugby.)

Having ignored as much of the earlier part of the match as possible, primarily to avoid jinxing the result – after all, every other important England match I’ve seen has ended without silverware – I was now glued to the screen as the Lionesses strove to keep their oppo away from goal for the last few minutes. 

And, miraculously, there was no last-minute German equaliser, no nail-biting penalty ordeal – and England had apparently ‘brought it home’ which is footballing code for ‘WON’. They won. England had won. The commentators were in bits – how ridiculous they are being so emotional, I said to myself as I covertly wiped the tears from my cheek and hoped Mr J would not ask me to speak.

The estimable Ms Kelly was almost immediately nabbed by a pitch-side interviewer who stuffed a mic in her hand and asked how she felt (or some such in-depth question), to which she responded with a few well-considered words before joining in fulsomely singing Sweet Caroline and running off with the microphone. I think this has to be one of my favourite bits of live telly ever. I don’t care if she wasn’t supposed to take her top off, or if she was supposed to give a seemly post-match interview. She wanted to be with her team-mates celebrating as only they know how (because since 1966 no other England team have won such a match). She returned shortly after and offered to ‘Go again’ – like the first time hadn’t been on live TV. Glorious. Then other Lionesses were given the microphone treatment, only to be jumped from behind by their teammates, and embraced unreservedly. Joyous, joyous scenes.

To later see some of the team hugging Prince William, whatever you may think of the Royals, was another protocol-bashing flourish. Good for them – good for HRH tbf.

However, this has all left me confused. The whole world has changed. I had expected to shrug, turn off the TV, water the plants and move on to the rest of the week as on so many other occasions, like nothing had happened – my British stiff upper lip upbringing (and plenty of practice) prompting me that ‘it’s the taking part that matters’ and other such runners-up clichés. But winning?

Well, I’m a diligent and predictable sort, so I still watered the plants, but it was to the accompaniment of hundreds of excited WhatsApp pings as my network adjusted itself to its newfound unbridled success.

And then, perhaps equally predictably, I came up here to drivel joyously on!

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 Happy days! 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿

 

Cat on a hot flat surface

Last Tuesday morning.

Hiding in a darkened house, downstairs where the coolth of our Edwardian pile has not yet entirely dissipated, whilst the Saharan heat dome looms outside.

It is odd and seemingly counterintuitive to keep the doors and windows closed in the tremendous heat as the news media is advising, but so far it seems to be paying dividends, and of course it is logical when you actually think about it. The curtains are closed at the front of the house against the searing sun, and I have made a mental note to close those at the back of the house after midday. Perhaps it would be easier to close them all for the entire day? 

But then I remember that in fact, after midday I will not be in this house at all, but sweatily making my way up to North London to cat-sit for my daughter.  In an upstairs flat in the big boiling metropolis. Hurrah!

Tuesday lunchtime.

With my small rucksack and large cool-bag slung about my person, I emerge from Jillings Towers into Dubai-level heat and – due to leaving it just that little bit later than ideal, as usual – scurrying the few hundred metres to the station to catch my train. I am relieved to see it is one of the new-fangled 10-coach trains – with AIR-CONDITIONING! The most comfortable 25 minutes of my day ensues – thank you SouthWestern Railways. 

View from bus – looks like abroad

Unable to bear the thought of the underground in such conditions, I risk another small outdoor stagger, this time to a bus-stop where a 521 immediately appears and whisks me up to Holborn (through the Strand underpass – haven’t been there for years! – such excitement) where I am able to change to the 91 with no more than 2 minutes standing in the roasting outdoors. This bus stops at the end of Daughter J’s road – fantastic. Both buses were reasonably empty and less oppressively hot than I had expected, so I patted myself metaphorically on the back for my sensible choices, and romped the last few metres and upstairs to the flat.

Tuesday afternoon.

I’ve been in the flat for a short while. I’ve greeted the cat, who perfunctorily acknowledged my presence for a few moments before slinking off somewhere to carry on being too hot in his own sweet way, and I’ve already raided my cool-bag for healthy snacks. I will need to venture to the local Waitrose, but that can wait until it cools down a bit this evening. It is definitely much hotter here than back at home, but not intolerably so. 

Tuesday evening.

The cat has not re-emerged from wherever he is hiding. I set off with my rucksack to investigate the Holloway Road Waitrose. Do they stock the same items in Islington that they have in the suburbs? Oh the excitement.  (Answer: Probably, but they aren’t as good at keeping the shelves stocked.)

Outside it is even hotter than inside, and definitely not much cooler than when I arrived, but needs must. I decide to spend quite a long time perusing the shelves in Waitrose. They have very nice air-con. 

Somehow, the few healthy provisions I intend to buy turn into more than thirty quid’s worth of chocolate, pâté, exotic crisp breads, peculiar salads and ginger beer. Unfamiliar with the store layout, I end up using one of those old-fashioned checkouts with an actual person – and realise I have completely lost the ability to pack my items all at once when scanned quickly by someone more dextrous than myself. Rucksacks are not ideal for this – and the last couple of items have to be carried ‘loose’ in my hands. Fortunately these are not of a melty nature and survive the journey.

Returning to the flat (nervous because Daughter J recently broke her key in the lock and I’m convinced that the spare key I’m using is thinner than normal and will definitely break too), I creep up the stairs and let myself through the flat door – careful to shoo the cat inside as he winds himself around my feet.

It’s good that he’s reappeared. I take the opportunity to give him a drink. I have tried several times earlier in the afternoon to entice him to the bathroom where his preferred (and possibly only) method of drinking involves perching him on the side of the sink and running a gentle stream of cold water until he remembers how to slurp it down. That’s what you get when you go ‘pedigree’. He’s probably got certificates for this. Anyhow, my earlier efforts proved unsuccessful, despite lifting him up several times, and making encouraging noises and signals. (I have executed this procedure successfully on previous occasions so I know not to expect immediate action on his part, but he has slunk off each time I try on this visit. Is this wilful awkwardness, heat-induced confusion, or simply a lack of thirst? I’ll never know.)

Hot and disappointed

Having slaked the cat’s thirst – and he IS very sweet when he finally drinks –  I sit myself down and eat far more than I need to in my attempt to sample new and interesting varieties of Waitrose fodder. I watch some nonsense on iPlayer on my iPad (iNonsense?), and eventually wonder where the cat has gone. I call him. No reply and no appearance. It’s so hot – I suppose he’s just being sensible but I’m beginning to worry. Eventually, after pouring the last drops from my enormous bottle of ginger beer, I spot him staring at me from a perch on the little walkway which leads out to a baking roof-terrace (onto which I will NOT be venturing – a) because it’s far too hot to contemplate being out in the sunshine and b) because it involves some precarious manoeuvring which I do not trust myself to undertake without incident). I reach across and stroke him and we seem to be friends.

I administer another cat-drink and take myself off to bed, to swelter privately.

Wednesday morning.

Both cat and I are breakfasted and watered, and I decide that I must have some outdoor exercise even though the temperature continues to be uncomfortable. I will go for a long but gentle walk. I check around the flat before I leave. I realise that one of the rooms has large windows wide open – hmm, I know we are two floors up, but surely the cat might try his luck on one of the window ledges. I suppose he hasn’t done so yet, but I probably should be extra careful, so I – illogically in fact – close one of the windows but also close the internal door so that the cat cannot get in there. This was to prove a poor decision.

Wednesday evening.

I return to the flat after traipsing happily from Lower Holloway to South Kensington, largely along the canal, and exploring the new developments at Kings Cross and Paddington Basin en route. It is liberating now that I have my old person’s travel pass; I allow myself to make my return journey by public transport because it is FREE – something I would have counted as frivolity when I had to pay for it. This means I can walk much further away from my starting point in the knowledge that I will be able to get home.

Paddington Basin – before heading home

As usual, the cat greets me with his disappointed face, realising that I am not his beloved keeper. In this instance, he also has a defiant look about him (I may be sexing this up a little for dramatic effect – sorry) which makes me nervy. After slugging back a pint of water myself, and successfully tempting the cat to the bathroom basin, I pop into my room for something – and discover a pungent smell which quickly focuses me on a substantial offering from my cat-sittee in the middle of the duvet cover on my bed. He’s braving it out and watches me carefully (and possibly triumphantly) as I deal with this latest challenge. Having so recently spent several weeks at home regularly cleaning up after my poor late lamented puss, I am perfectly capable – if a little tired and disappointed – of rising to the challenge. I haven’t the energy to be cross and on the plus side, the fact that there is no duvet inside the cover makes the task easier than would otherwise be the case. The domestic washing machine can deal with this, once initial scoop and disposal manoeuvres are complete.

With the duvet cover and bed sheet draped over drying rack and banisters – they will dry quickly in this heat – I sink into the sofa and discover my appetite has not been harmed by recent events and my self-allocated chocolate allowance for the evening is increased as compensation.

I determine that perhaps this incident can remain between me and the cat (and Mr J of course, who receives regular electronic bulletins as the clearing up is in progress – he can both empathise and laugh like a drain). 

Before retiring to sleep, on the perfectly dried sheet and beneath the almost dry duvet cover, I notice that the cat has disappeared. I wanted to give him a last drink so he won’t need one overnight but I can’t find him and he doesn’t come when I call. So now he’s ashamed? Well, I really do want to make sure he’s ok and I realise that for some reason I have opened the door to that room with the open windows, and I immediately begin to catastrophize (I’m good at that) that Mr Cat has staged a further protest and made a bid for freedom. As a result of my silly fear, and against daughterly instructions, I venture up the precipitously steep wooden stairs to Daughter J’s bedroom to see if I can spot him there before complete panic stations set in. I’m not supposed to go up to this room, as it has not been tidied and it’s none of my business to inspect etc. And I’m quite happy with that because I’m terrified of those stairs, and have no wish to go against instructions (nor am I the type to want to clear up after someone else – quite right, none of my business/duty, didn’t do much of it when they lived at home). But – needs must. I can’t go to sleep unsure whether I have negligently allowed the cat to fall from a window, however unlikely that may seem.

Clinging to the banister, I haul myself into the even hotter top room and scan the bed and all four corners of the room – and there is no sign of the cat. Panic is not far away now, but I am not going to start rummaging around – I would surely be able to see him if he was up here. Clinging even tighter, I descend carefully and look again in the room with the windows. Nothing.

Finally, I remember the stash of cat treats in the cupboard. Aha – I was just starting to open the packet, when in a flash, my friend (for such he suddenly is) slinks effortlessly down those perilous stairs from wherever he was hiding, and is beseechingly by my side. So, all is well with the world and we both celebrate with a late-night drink (of water in both our cases) before turning in.

Thursday.

It is marginally cooler now and my night has passed uneventfully. I tidy after myself, straighten up a few things in the kitchen, give the cat one last drink and a bit of a stroke, and then make my way back across London.

Daughter J returns in the evening, after I have already departed. It is late and we message briefly and don’t discuss the cat.

Friday.

I get a phone call from Daughter J. We talk about her trip, and I tell her how far I walked. Inevitably (as we are British) we spend some time discussing the weather. She then asks me – ‘Was there an accident with the bedding? – I see you’ve washed it all.’ Oh well, my best intentions dashed, I admit that yes, there had been an incident…

‘Well, I noticed that the door to his toilet room was closed!’

Ah.*

And oops.

* In my defence, although I had spectacularly failed to notice the sparkling hi-tech litter tray, I had spotted a different, although slightly less hi-tech, litter tray in the very room which he decided to soil – but apparently this was not the one he usually uses even if it IS the one which comes with him to our house at Christmas.  We wonder whether in fact the window-room door had blown closed before I arrived which might give me a greater reason to ensure it was closed when I left the flat. Daughter, and my memory, may be being charitable here, although it is true that it was very windy despite the enormous heat. We’ll never know, and after a week of feeling stupid about this, I’ve decided it’s better to laugh about it. 

 

 

 

 

 

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