Playing Host to the Beast

In what is clearly a gift to 24-hour news broadcasters, newspapers and weather people, ‘The Beast from the East’ has chosen to visit the UK. I’m sceptical. I’m inclined to think that this blanket of snow, ice and bitter winds has been engendered by the Russians [or to be clearer, Putin] in order to further de-stabilise poor, beleaguered Europe; to undermine the infra-structures, to disrupt our transport systems, to bring manufacturing to a halt.
Once all this has happened, Russia can flood our [and for the purposes of this post I’m considering we are part of Europe-mere wishful thinking on my part] markets with their own products. So along with the eventual thaw we can expect a deluge of potatoes, petrol, samovars, beetroot and nesting Russian dolls. This is fortunate for me, since I’m partial to beetroot and potatoes and have two small granddaughters, although there is a limit to the quantity of petrol our lawn mower can consume in one season.
Conspiracy theories apart, this late spell of winter sparks the usual flurry of journalistic activity, producing every kind of article from ‘how to care for the homeless’ to ‘what to wear in cold conditions’ to ‘what to carry in the boot of your car in the event of becoming stuck in snow’. This is all very useful and informative-to someone who has recently moved here from Death Valley, California or the Australian Outback. The rest of us are only too aware of what to put on [layers of woolly clothes], how to provide for the homeless [inviting them in to your spare bedroom, lobbying your local council/contributing to homeless charities/adding blankets and scarves to their belongings] and what we should put in our vehicles [hot drinks/blankets/spades].
I know I’m risking eye-rolling as I mention it, but anyone who was born before the 1960s and especially in a rural location will have experienced winter weather in a home without central heating and perhaps without a bathroom. Ice on the insides of windows and across the surface of the cess pit outside in the garden latrine was the norm. We did, of course have lovely, sooty coal fires to sit around and even to bath in front of.
As a child I loved snowy, icy days; loved splintering up the ice on a frozen puddle and making footprints in virgin snow. School playtimes were a riot of fun without any health and safety guidelines or gritting procedures as we worked together to manufacture the longest, smoothest, glassiest, most slippery ice slide imaginable in a diagonal strip that we queued up for whenever we were released from the classroom. We’d return to find our beautiful little, third-of-a-pint milk bottles were filled with lumps of ice so large they had pushed the foil lids up.
This morning we woke in our centrally heated house to find glassy ice had frosted all the windows, creating an interesting, bathroom-type effect; not the fancy, curly patterns I used to find on my bedroom windows as a child but at least this ice is on the outside, which is progress.

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A Neighbourly Manor [Part 3]

In Part 3 of ‘A Neighbourly Manor’, Lena and Richard return from a holiday and meet yet another of Jackson’s visitors. Richard is less than impressed…

A Neighbourly Manor [Part 3]

                 We left Chiddlehampton and the UK a few days later to spend April in Marbella with our son, who works there as an architect. We prefer to visit in spring or autumn when the Spanish temperatures are less sweltering than in summer.
On the day following our return I collected Molly from some friends in the village who look after her when we are away and decided from her disgruntled expression and affronted manner that I should offer a brisk walk as a placatory gesture, so I combined this with a route through the estate. I was keen to learn what changes had occurred and who might be in residence.
In our absence the mature trees in the grounds had taken advantage of the balmy May sunshine to burst into blossom so that intermittent drifts of white or pink petals showered across in a light breeze. Scaffolding was still in place around the creamy walls, although the roof replacement looked to be almost complete.
Around the back in the car park area I noticed that an unsightly, corrugated pergola had been removed to reveal a semi-circle of elegant columns, a stunning feature. Jackson then had not been idle. His car was parked next to one of the sets of French windows facing the lawns. I loitered for a few minutes in hopes of spotting him or Imogen, or even Kristina, but with no obvious signs of human activity I continued through to the meadows with Molly.

That evening, when Richard suggested we stroll down to the pub and catch up with some village news, I needed no persuasion. Since the evenings had drawn out and drawn the locals out, the garden of the Cuckoo was as busy as the two bars, making it tricky work getting to buy a drink. I noticed that most of the tables were occupied with diners, too.
We’d just managed to gain access to the counter and the attention of the bar staff when I felt a rangy arm clamp around my neck and winced as a deafening voice boomed in my ear.
‘Well, well! The wanderers have returned! Welcome back you two. Did you have a good time? You must come down and see all the changes we’ve made. You won’t recognise the place! We have a table over in the alcove. Come and join us. You will let me get those, won’t you old chap?’
This was addressed to Richard, who’d not turned his head during the greeting, but responded while taking a note from his wallet and handing it across the counter.
‘We only came in for a quick one.’
I could have predicted my husband’s reply, however I was not about to allow an opportunity to talk with one of the two women pass me by.
‘But we’ll come and say Hello. Where are you sitting?’ A quick scan of the tables revealed no one resembling either of them.
We picked up our drinks and followed Jackson through the throng to the alcove. A woman was seated there, not Imogen, not Kristina; a young woman with a mane of dark curls and a heavy pasting of make-up, dark, sooty eyelids and a scarlet gash of lips. Jackson introduced us. When she stood she revealed a swell of cleavage above the line of her blouse.
‘This is my friend Liliana. She is an architect and has come to help with the interior design plans.’
The woman placed her hands on Richard’s shoulders and kissed his cheek, one side followed by the other, continental style. Her fingers, resting on my husband’s upper arms were long and tapered, nails topped with the same livid red as her mouth; as she leaned to offer the same treatment to me I caught a whiff of sweet, pungent perfume.
‘I am happy to meet you’ she breathed; her speech coloured with a strong Latin accent which was confirmed by Jackson’s adjunct.
‘Liliana is Italian.’
Beside me on the bench, Richard was silent, concentrating his attention on his pint of Best as Jackson continued.
‘She is also a terrific artist. We’ve brought some of her canvases down to see where they’ll hang. You must come and take a look.’
As he spoke the woman’s lips smiled in their red slash, her eyes narrowing until I thought she might purr like a pampered cat stretched on a hearthrug. To fill the conversational void I murmured something non-committal and took a sip of my wine. Richard lifted his glass and tipped it back it in uncharacteristic gulps before turning to me.
‘We can’t be too long, Lena. Don’t forget Bob is coming round this evening.’
As we walked back along the lane I asked him, ‘Who on Earth is Bob?’
‘No one. Anyone. What does it matter?’ he replied, ‘I just couldn’t spend any more of my time with that insufferable man.’

 

Cheering Myself Up-

You have only to take a glancing interest in the news on a regular basis to begin to feel that the world is a gloomy place-and becoming gloomier by the day.

  • In various parts of the world there are the usual, horrific subjugations of parts of society by other parts [such as in Myanmar]. [It is difficult to understand, in this case how a woman with a history of persecution cannot bring herself to support and alleviate the suffering of her fellow countrymen].
  • Ill-conceived and pointless terrorist attempts continue to be made-the latest a horrific explosion on an underground train in London, in which a number of innocent people were injured for merely going about their business.
  • In the UK a debt mountain is growing and threatening to eclipse all previous peaks.
  • The USA and North Korea between them seem to have decided to blow the planet to smithereens.
  • Our beleaguered health service is [yet again] facing a crisis winter without sufficient resources, staff or funding, although if the previous story goes the full chapter the health service will not be necessary…

But overall, all of these grim stories almost pale into irritations compared to the ghastly weather incidents that have been occurring on an increasing scale this year. The Caribbean and the Eastern part of North America has seen devastating events as has Asia, with hurricanes, unrelenting rain, flooding and ravaging winds destroying the lives, homes and livelihoods of thousands.

Can there be anyone left other than Donald Trump who still refuses to believe that the Earth’s climate is changing?

I can’t help feeling we have an obligation at least to know about terrible news events, rather than ignoring it all. But knowing can induce a sensation of helplessness-even despair. In order to mitigate these reactions I determined to trawl through the news and attempt to find some uplifting, heartening or entertaining snippets:

  • The Handmaid’s Tale, a book I read some years ago and recently watched on TV has won the prestigious Emmy award. And quite right, too! Margaret Atwood is one of my favourite writers with her thought-provoking tales of dystopian futures.
  • Some wonderful movie posters dating from the 1930s and 1940s have been discovered under a carpet near Cardiff in Wales, UK. They were sold at auction for £72,000. I like to hear that discoveries such as this are still possible!
  • A Polish lemonade company wanted to market a new product and call it ‘John Lemon’. What a relief they were stopped! Yoko Ono massed some big legal guns; now it’s to be called ‘On Lemon’ which would be unlikely to offend anyone.
  • A Welsh [yes, Wales again] teenager walked up Mount Snowdon [for the uninitiated this is the highest peak in England and Wales] wearing only his underwear, in order to raise money for a dementia charity. He gained the top but became very ill with hypothermia, having not realised that the temperature would be considerably colder than at the base of the mountain. Fortunately the lad was transported down on the train and treated by paramedics. That he recovered goes without saying-or I would not have included the story in the ‘uplifting’ section.

There you have it! Bad news/good news-a game we played as children. The second list was harder to find. Make of it what you will…

Good News, Bad News

January is a bleak month in the northern hemisphere, even in the most optimistic of times. But add in the various crises and daily, grim news bulletins and it becomes a cold drizzle of misery. The good news is that, like all time, it passes. ‘Tomorrow is another day’ and similar clichés are reminders.

Remember that old game, ‘The Good News, The Bad News’? Well here it is:

The Bad News

Inflation is rising faster than we in the UK imagined, everyone is going to have to work until they’re eighty six and the pound is floundering against just about every currency except Malawi. This is due to a misguided belief by tabloid readers and fans of the ghastly Michael Gove and Boris Johnson that we have somehow ‘reclaimed’ our sceptred isle.

The Good News

                Holidays in the UK might be better value than exotic climes. If you enjoy British cuisine, wet, windswept seaside resorts, austere B&Bs and gift shops selling red telephone box fridge magnets you’ll be laughing.

The Bad News

                A corrupt, racist, misogynistic sex abuser has been chosen to be the most powerful leader in the world.

The Good News

                The possibilities for the arts are endless. Satirical comedy, music, cartoon and parody can know no bounds. The only drawback is that now, before January has ended and the ‘president elect’ has barely been sworn in most of us are sick to the back teeth of hearing about him.

The Bad News

                Here in the UK our treasured National Health Service is beginning to cave in under the pressure of lack of funds and personnel and weight of sick people. The NHS could function SO much better without all the sick people. Most of them are elderly. The population of elderly is growing, further compounding the NHS difficulties.

The Good News

                Most sick, old people turning up at hospitals right now are lining the corridors on trolleys. There are many benefits to this. For one thing, there are enough of them to form little communities, thus solving the problem of old-age loneliness. They’ll no doubt be enjoying a rousing sing-song even as I write and forming lasting [albeit short-lived] friendships. Another benefit is that some of them, whilst either waiting for attention or having heart attacks from all the community singing will croak, conveniently freeing up a trolley space for another old bid.

The Bad News

                Owing to unseasonable, inclement weather in the southerly parts of Europe courgettes are in short supply. Spain, which is a major supplier of these vegetables is experiencing freezing temperatures and snow, affecting their development. It’s terrible news for the ‘clean eating’ brigade and those who seek to replace pasta with courgette ribbons. What on earth will they do?

The Good News

                Courgettes are useless, tasteless, pointless little objects and only palatable when sautéed in butter as an accompaniment to fish. I recommend replacing them with lovely, creamy pasta or incorporating them into something in which the other components have some flavour. Save yourself the trouble of searching for them!

Roll on February!

               

               

               

Coupling up…or Disentangling…

There must be a reason why the popular press loves to dollop liberal helpings of news about celebrity couples all over their pages. Does it make enjoyable reading because relationships are what interest the public more than anything? Who is with who? Who has had a baby? Who has been seen on holiday cavorting in the waves with who? And even more riveting: Who has split up with who? Who is having an affair/threesome/visits to prostitutes/paedophile allegations? Recently we’ve seen the split of Hollywood royalty ‘Brangelina’ as well as having to suffer the odious Donald Trump crowing about Bill Clinton’s indiscretions [of years ago-and for which he paid a hefty price].

You have to feel for the poor celebs. Their relationships have to weather the storms of fame, being in the public eye, having to undergo endless photo shoots for ‘Hello’ magazine, having loads of money and getting photo-zapped by stealthy paparazzi whilst exposing their flesh on expensive yachts. One or two famous couples have also amassed more children than the old woman who lived in a shoe by jetting around the world and hoovering up spare tots like flies on a window sill.

But what of we mere mortals? Observing couple behaviour is an interesting slant on people watching and a sport I’ve been enjoying during the time we’ve been away. Unless it’s an arranged marriage a relationship will usually have begun with some mutual attraction or downright lust from one or both partners. The lust gets tempered over time for a variety of reasons. Babies are renowned passion killers as are domestic chores and financial duress. For some couples, however this round of domestic obligation can be the cement that sticks them and an adhesive that fails once the chicks have fledged and the pair realise that the sprogs was all they had in common. I know a number of these.

Many couples, however seem to stick together even though nothing remains or they’ve forgotten why they became one to begin with, sharing their accommodation and little else. In our local hostelry the same individuals [almost exclusively male] can be seen any or every night of the week, leaving spouses to their own devices. Most people don’t want to be joined at the hip, and a few different interests in retirement is a good idea, but some seem not to have contact at any point, like the couple in a motorhome in Agde, France, one of whom spent each day cycling and the other inside watching TV. I’ll leave you, reader to imagine which half of the couple indulged in which activity.

Separating is scary and expensive for we commoners, more so in older age, but myself I couldn’t contemplate living the meagre remainder of my life with a cold vacuum of relationship in which the property we occupied was the only thing in common.

Whereabouts on the Podium do you Stand?

It is Olympics time. I was watching the women’s cycling road event, sucked in by the thrilling build-up as the competitors battled over the last few kilometres. There was a tortuous climb up a long, winding hill followed by a hurtling, nail-biting descent on a slippery road with more perilous bends, the roadside precipices looming at every turn. The leader, a Dutch woman had pulled ahead of the pack, shrugged off her nearest rival and was rocketing down in an exhilarating abandonment of caution. Then catastrophe struck as she hit the side, catapulting herself over the handlebars and on to her head to lie inert as the riders cannoned downwards past her and towards the finish.

My heart leapt into my throat. I remembered what a coward I was, whimpering my way down the mountain in Thailand and having to be nursed down over the ruts and chasms by a kindly Thai guide as the rest of the group swooshed down in a cloud of confidence. The camera continued to follow the Olympic cyclists, one of the commentators insisting we should follow the race, the other less sure, feeling much like I did that the catastrophic crash eclipsed any result that would ensue.

An American had taken the lead now, hotly pursued by a small group who closed the gap then at the very last they overtook her and the gold medal was won by another Dutch woman in an ironic turn of events. How must the American have felt to have the medal torn from her grasp in the last few metres? These are the stories you see less of during the coverage of the games. We see the triumphs, the excitement, the interviews and the joy. We don’t see the heartbreak and the disappointment.

Until I grew old-ish the only interest I took in anything Olympic Games related was to rail at the lack of proper telly. During the weeks that the games is on everything else-dramas, murder mysteries, historical documentaries, talk shows, music programmes, political debate or David Attenborough cavorting with primates-they all must make way for the ceaseless round of prattle that is the Games.

Nowadays I have an ambivalent attitude to watching sport. Sometimes it can suck me in [as in the cycle race]. Other times I’ll sit down to watch an event only to have my mind wander off on an event of its own-to the supermarket perhaps to ponder groceries or to the fridge to peruse the contents. My fingers may stray to the keyboard to play a round of Scrabble [I am engaged in a gladiatorial battle of almost Olympic proportions with a friend]. I might feel inclined to check emails or read a news website.

And where is the coverage of The Edinburgh Fringe event? At the very least it could be shown on a different channel!

The Dutch cyclist survived, albeit with spinal fractures and some other injuries-not least the disappointment of having crashed out at a pivotal moment. Since then there has been diving, gymnastics, tennis, swimming, shooting; some GB successes. The results, yes they are of some interest. The events themselves must take their chances and compete with emails and Scrabble.

No News would be Good

Maybe it’s because we are submerged in a waiting limbo or maybe because in other circumstances we would be away in foreign fields that I’ve become impatient to the point of fury with many of this month’s stories and trends. Here, in no particular order are some of the worst:

  • Brexit or Bremain

Not a day passes without a debate, an angle, a row or a ‘celebrity’ opinion for one side or the other. Even Facebook contacts are pushing their particular views [many, I fear culled from a certain tabloid rag]. The fact that it is not known for certain what will happen should we stay or should we go deters no one. Personally I have never been in any doubt about what Britain should do but it is one opinion I won’t be boring anyone else with [I’m not promising not to bore over other stuff].

  • The American Candidates

Yes, Donald Trump represents everything intolerant, bigoted, illiberal and reactionary. Yes, we can’t understand how he got into this elevated position. We would hope that America comes to its senses. Enough said.

  • Leicester City Football

I accept that being a football refusenik may have influenced my descent into ennui regarding what the sporting press call Leicester’s ‘fairytale’ success, nevertheless, surely the eulogising, analysing, filming, interviewing and repetition must be boring the undies off even the most die-hard Leicester fan? The only, tiny morsels of interest in this story are the bits about the manager [who should be cast as the cat stroking baddie in the next Bond film, so sinister-sounding is his accent] treating the players to a pizza making class or the team being bought beer and doughnuts. And if I have to hear their accomplishment described as fairytale one more time I’ll have to throw the TV from the window, rock star style. I presume the team members don’t object to being described as fairies, although there are certain [non-PC] connotations to the word…

  • Political In-fighting

Years ago [yes, yes I realise I’m coming over all ‘old bid’] politicians had lofty ideals. I’m sure there was a notion of serving communities and all that. Think of Aneurin Bevan and the start of the National Health Service. Is anyone else tired of spiteful niggling and back-biting and racial slurs? How good it would be to hear some real policies, some ideas about how society and quality of life might be improved for everyone. Is it too much to expect? Yes-obviously.

  • Beyoncé

How come I am unable to scroll down more than a centimetre of the Guardian website without having to accelerate past some new article about her? I’m sure that fans of Beyoncé are beyond delighted to be able to devour every, minute crumb of information about what she wore [or didn’t], sang, earned or had for breakfast but I’m sceptical as to whether your typical Guardian website reader is a Beyoncé fan. Maybe someone can enlighten me.

 

Here endeth this week’s rant-