I have stopped doing paid work one year before becoming elligible for my state pension. This is to concentrate on writing. Well at least that is the plan although, as I mentioned in my previous post, focussing on writing alone is a challenge.
With the time now available to me, my first task was to set up my office in our family room, and in the course of this, as did many people over the period, I encouraged my family to sort out their unwanted belongings to be sold or donated.
Having left my school during lock-down and therefore found myself unable to bid my colleagues farewell, I was delighted to receive an invitation to an outdoor assembly on the last day of term. On that same day, I spotted an attractive pink top in Mavis’s bundle of unwanted clothes, I fished it out and tried it on. ‘Very nice,’ I thought, ‘I’ll have that,’ and put it on.
Off to school I trotted feeling good in my new outfit. During the assembly, I was presented with a bunch of goodbye flowers and said a few words to the children and staff, then I returned home.
Mavis was in the kitchen. She stared at my top and demanded, ‘Why are you wearing Sara’s nightie?’
My final official engagement at work, and I attended in my sister’s night dress!
There are many obstacles to completing a novel; so many responsibilities to interrupt the would-be author, such as the processing of laundry, the exercise of the dog, the obtaining, storing production and disposal of food, and a glance in the new full length mirror making one exclaim Oh my God you look terrible in that lovely cool outfit and dash to the bedroom to change into something hotter.
In the past week though, two particular events occurred to amuse and delay.
The first, while actually, working on my sixth or maybe seventh edit, brought me to a stop when I experienced severe pain around my chest and back. Oh, thought I, Now that hurts quite a lot. I leant back in the chair and took deep breaths. My lungs felt fine, which was a relief. Not a third P.E. then. I lifted my arms in the air and smiled at myself in the mirror – weird, I know, but I was checking for stroke symptoms. All was symmetrical – and just as lumpy as my reflection had looked in the comfortable outfit.
Heart then? I checked my pulse, all fine.
Despite these reassurances I decided I should sit with Whizz for a while in case of emergency, so I rose from my office chair. Like a miracle, the pain subsided to a manageable level. Hmm. I reached behind my back and unfastened my bra, and the pain vanished. My medical emergency was a TIGHT BRA!
The second obstacle occurred, once again while I wrote. I was alone in the house, while Whizz worked somewhere in Surrey, and Mavis was away in Bath. Downstairs, the dog began to bark, not in an I want a pee way or a where are you I need a fuss? way, no this was more like a, something’s going on and I’m nervous way. The type of bark our pathetic mutt would make if, say, a burglar should climb in through the window.
I crept down the stairs and through the lounge and peeped round the corner to the kitchen. Milo was leaping up at the sink, at something that was worrying him at the window. This was getting quite scary and my fight or flight mechanism kicked in. Heart in overdrive, I tiptoed towards the kitchen and there was…
A pigeon, strutting along the window ledge – INSIDE. It aimed its eye at me quite calmly then shifted it back to the dog, which was panting and scrabbling to reach it.
I locked the dog in the hall from where he maintained an anxious and frustrated yipping, and turned my attention to this appealingly confident bird. Having opened the window in the mistaken hope that it would see sense and leave, I began a conversation. ‘Hello pidgy,’ I said gently, and advanced upon it.
It scuttled along the window ledge to the other end, knocking over pots of emerging cuttings and the washing up liquid. When I bore down on it again, it hopped onto the worktop and I, sensing success, cornered it against a cupboard and captured it. Holding it, as I knew I should, buy encircling its closed wings, I managed to throw it out of the open window.
Now, you might think that would put an end to the tale but instead of flying away, this bird, after sitting on our drive for a minute to recover from its ordeal, stood (it was at this point that I noticed it was ringed) and began pecking at the ground. It was eating. Not too stressed then.
Somewhere in my memory I located a reference to racing pigeons getting tired and stopping to rest. Perhaps the creature needed a quick drink before it went on its way. I filled a pyrex dish and slid it onto the drive before returning to the kitchen to watch events . The bird ignored the water and began walking like an Egyptian straight into the road: a B. road.
‘Noooo’ I hollered. I’d been to a lot of trouble to get the darned bird this far, I was not about to watch him being flattened by a juggernaught.
The road was empty, thank goodness. I clapped my hands and ran up behind Pidge, but he would not fly. He did increase his pace to a trot and eventually, with me a yard behind, my arms protectively held wide like a socially distanced hug, he turned right into the access drive of a house behind ours. I worried I might have injured him when I lobbed him through the casement, so, needing reassurance, I shouted and ran at him and with relief, watched him take off and fly away.
An hour later, I let the dog into the back garden and he rushed at something snuggled against the fence. You guessed it; the pigeon. The bird had clearly taken a liking to us. It fluttered upwards to avoid Milo and I think it went over the fence but later it was back.
To state the bl**ding obvious, pigeons and dogs are not compatible, and our dog likes to be in the garden in order to, among other things, bark at the wood pigeons that perch on top of our garage to taunt him.
So Milo was confined to barracks while Whizz and I attempted to round up pidge and identify his owner from the ring around his ankle.
I won’t bore you with our failings but suffice to say that after constructing and cleaning the dog crate to confine the bird, obtaining corn from a neighbour who keeps doves, and placing inside the crate a handful of grain and a dish of water, Pidge, and the crate, are both in our garage, The bird, perched as high up as he can get on a giant box that once housed our microwave, and the crate, an enormous and inconvenient thing – much like Milo, is in the middle of the gangway. Whizz, after a lot of cajoling and the use of ladders at both ends of the garage, managed to read the number from the bird’s bracelet, and a man from High Wycombe is coming to retrieve his property later this evening.
So, I am writing a blog post, which is much more entertaining than editing a novel.
To add a little levity to the Covid-19 situation because, let’s face it, we all need a smile, I will now relate some things that amused me, or someone else at my expense, in the past months.
The refuse tip
I have been decluttering. I expect many of you have done the same and afterwards, looking at the mountains of filled boxes, wished you had waited until the tip was open before starting.
I began in our family room. It was the repository of items unwanted elsewhere in the house, some too good to throw away but never sold or donated, and others simply dumped ‘pending disposal’, such as a disgusting single mattress (more of this later) and bags of old clothing.
Along the walls in our family room are six Billy the Bookcase shelves, largely populated by pulp fiction but also containing a whole set of Encyclopaedia Britanica, circa 1960, and a number of glossy tomes that Whizz received when he failed to cancel their automatic dispatch by the Folio Society, about twenty years ago.
We love books, and many of those on our shelves hold happy memories: Presents from grandparents and much loved childhood reads…
but most books we couldn’t bear to dispose of simply because they were books. Now, however, with the convenience of the ebook, these cheap paper versions have lost value in our hearts. Even Whizz agreed that the space they occupied was more precious than the worn copies of Harold Robins and PD James, so I began to box them up.
Meanwhile, in the kitchen, a series of appliances chose this period to die. As I write, we have a diminished bank balance and a brand new tumble drier, dish washer and microwave. The defunct versions of the two former (in both senses of the word) appliances were taken away by the obliging service engineer, but the microwave oven awaited disposal outside our back door along with other objects I don’t even remember. All I know is that the pathway was beginning to look like Steptoes’ yard.
Leaving a pile of boxes in the family room, I moved on to the garage. Our garage is not your usual single width, single storey job but a domineering structure, one and a half floors high, that presents an unattractive view through our new, double glazed, patio doors.
The trouble with a big house, and a garage that many could live in, is that you have room to simply dump things that are too much trouble to dispose of, or that might come in handy one day. Hence, our garage is home to reels of cable of differing sizes, pots of unwanted paint, specialist cleaning products, ancient weedkiller, a very dangerous circular saw on a metal stand and, pertinent to this story, a huge sheet of polystyrene, a full arms’ width square and 2 – 3 inches deep, purchased to insulate our porch roof and subsequently deemed unnecessary.
A visit to the tip was imperative, so, back in the family room, Mavis, Whizz and I wrestled with the mattress and succeeded in taping it into a giant roll. This provided the item with more giggling and grunting than it had experienced during its useful life. We hefted it into the car, where it occupied a good deal of the available space, but not too much to prevent the enormous insulating sheet from the garage fitting on top and the microwave and other things being tucked around it. Not the books. They were destined for an unsuspecting charity shop.
Mavis and I set off in Whizz’s car, which is larger than mine (and much tidier, but that’s irrelevant). I tried not to be concerned that the council website advised that only one person was allowed out of the car at the tip. But I had already wrapped my arms around the mattress and it was quite liftable, and the polystyrene? Well, how hard could that be to carry?
There was no queue at the tip. We had chosen our timing well. Two men were stationed at the entrance: one seated at a table, issuing guidance to the other who greeted arrivals through their open car windows, peered suspiciously into the back to make sure there were no explosives or illegal immigrants, and yelled a description of what he saw to the guy at the table. This seated fellow then told him the number of the skip in which the items should be deposited and he (standing man) conveyed this information, which we could clearly hear already, to us. In our case, the port of call was skip number 12, one of the last in a row of huge skips, labelled with their intended contents.
I was delighted to find a space for the car near to skip number twelve, and under the watchful eye of another, hi-viz man, reversed the unfamilliar car into a plastic barrier before coming to rest two inches from it. I lifted the tailgate of the car, squeeked out the polystyrene and with it held in front of me in both arms, walked sideways to permit a view of my destination, skip number 12.
I reached it, gripping the insulating sheet to keep it steady in the breeze, and looked round the edge to gauge my aim.
Curtains. I mean, the whole thing was curtained off – closed.
Helpful Hi-viz shouted, ‘You need to put that in number 2’
By this time the wind had really got up and when I turned around to berate him and his kind (in a quite restrained manner due to me having Buddhahood ‘n’all), the sheet caught the wind and I staggered about like a drunkard trying to tame it. This completely distracted me from my tirade.
With dismay, it dawned on me that the entire contents of the car, apart from the microwave, must be carted to skip two. I couldn’t drive back to it as the system was one-way. The only option was to walk. It doesn’t sound far, but actually, it is quite a long way when you are fighting with large piece of material acting like a wingsuit or lovingly embracing a massive mattress.
Meanwhile Mavis watching from the comfort of the passenger seat, was helpless to come to my rescue.
Finally, with a delightfully empty car and the happy anticipation of alcoholic beverage as reward for my energetic and buffetted experience, I drove us home.
Gin and tonic in hand, I made a call Horace to catch up with her news. I related my experience at the tip, and in return she admitted to one of her own.
Did you know that runny paint is not allowed in landfill? I didn’t, but now, unfortunately, given the number of half used tins still requiring disposal, I do. Horace and Kerching however knew this full well when they buried their tins deep in a plastic bag under other junk, to sneak into a skip.
But sins have a tendence to find you out and as Horace swung this bag into the landfill container, its bottom caught on the edge and the bag burst open causing tins of paint to clatter to the ground and one to burst open, showering her with bright orange paint.
Her guilty eyes met Kerching’s and the two of them fled without looking back. Fortunately, their location remains concealed from all but closest family, unless a reward is offered for information leading to their arrest.
I am a T.A, specialising in Speech and Language. The lockdown forced me home, and fear caused by my age and vulnerable status, kept me there. Thanks to the compassion of the school, I have been working remotely, marking maths and, to pass the time and hopefully add value, filming a Creative Writing lesson or three, making quizzes with a human face – mine, and recording audio versions of the trickier texts the children are faced with in their home schooling.
I learned a lot about recording and editing video during the above mentioned Writing lesson and quickly realised I needed a script and an autocue. I chose teleprompter Premium, and set it up on my phone. It cleverly allows the script to roll at your chosen speed and font size and sits on the screen beside the camera so that your eye looks almost at the audience.
I had a small barrier behind me to block out the room, which contained all the above mentioned junk, and began recording the first lesson. After a few abortive takes, I reached the end of my performance with barely a hesitation, and loaded the video into my editing tool Hitfilm Express, on the computer.
It was then I realised the teleprompter on my phone screen concealed a view of the disgusting mattress, propped at the end of the double bed. Duh!
One last bit. Evidence of what lies ahead for me and mine
I have made no secret of the fact that I am tipping over the hill. Not completely inept, but conscious of an inevitable deterioration in my faculties. Up to now, I have reported on the consequences of a decline in my eye sight and memory , but I always knew, given the evidence of my grandfather and mother, that I would end up hard of hearing.
Lately, and it may be partly due to an increased use of earbuds during Zoom calls and lesson production, I have noticed that people have started to mumble.
Let me also remind you that Whizz and I, on our walks with the dog or in the kitchen while I prepare dinner, have many interesting debates about the state of the world. It was in the kitchen that we were discussing world recession. I was arguing (or fishing for more information) that if the whole world is in recession, why does it matter? We are all starting from the same place; our economies have all dropped, but in relation to each other our positions are the same. I still don’t understand the answer but something Whizz said made me prick up my ears.
‘China,’ he said, ‘Is a combination of Billy Connolly and a police state.’
I wracked my brain, seeking a link between these two seemingly unconnected entities. I had watched a program about Mr Connolly travelling in Iceland and I knew he was from Scotland, but could think of nothing to connect him with China.’
‘What do you mean?’ I asked at last.
Whizz explained that because of the size of its economy…
Unfortunately, my Buddhahood doesn’t always manifest itself, and I give myself a lot of grief and forget this fundamental fact.
So, I decided to send myself electronic reminders from my calendar. A few months ago, before Whizz bought himself a new Apple watch, the messages would appear twice daily on my Fitbit: ‘You are a Buddha’ they would say and give me a nice little buzz on the wrist.
Then I got the handmedown Apple watch. All singin’ all dancin’ with knobs on. Now my messages say ‘You are a Buddha until 10am’.
It is December 10th, 2019, a few days after my mum’s 90th birthday, and I am limping towards my 64th Christmas, my enthusiasm as yet unroused. Mavis is excited though, and this is something to be grateful for in light of the saddest of things that happened on her third Christmas. It probably doesn’t seem that sad to you but I hate to remember it.
Her third Christmas. She was two years and two months old. The first year when excitement might well in her breast at the thought of Santa bringing a cornucopia of gifts and delivering them into a stocking, carefully hung outside the bedroom to avoid the terror of his looming into view in the middle of the night.
On Christmas Eve, Mavis was dispatched to bed with dire warnings that Santa wouldn’t come if she didn’t go to sleep, then Whizz and I clinked together our glasses of mulled wine and waited for the chance to fill up her stocking. I’m not sure who was more excited, us or Mavis. We couldn’t wait to watch her little face light up when she saw that magically lumpy sack.
The only thing that Mavis had asked Father Christmas for was a blue teddy, and this, with some effort, I had managed to find. Although rather small, he had a cute face, and after stuffing the stocking with the usual yoyos, dollies, silly games and such, I perched him on the top, peeping out over the edge so he would be the first thing she saw when she opened her door.
Whizz and I went to bed in the expectation of an early awakening, but strangely, we woke up before Mavis. Not wishing to disturb her sleep, we settled back in bed and began to read. After some time, the handle of the door went down and a solemn little face peeped in.
‘Hello,’ I said. ‘Has he been.’
Mavis shook her head. ‘No,’ she said. ‘I been too naughty.’
What? I launched myself out of bed saying, ‘I’m sure you haven’t. Let me see.’
It was quite a large stocking, made by me as a more attractive alternative to a pillow case. Overnight, its contents had settled to such a degree that teddy had dropped a few inches, and Mavis, being small, was unable to see inside.
Of course I soon showed her that the presents were there, but her earlier sadness took the edge off my joy, and I think, hers. Aww. I still feel a hollow in my stomach when I think of it.