The many and various ways I pass the time now has a new addition. Usually it involves drinking coffee whilst sitting at a computer keeping in touch with chums, or sipping wine sitting on our tiny terrace catching the sun, and wondering what else I can do to avoid any cleaning or tidying or putting away of stuff and things that aren't even MINE. And now I am going to type this blog. Provided that doesn't become a chore as well, in which case...

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Some Days I Don't Know Why I Bother to Chew Through the Straps

Had a relapse.  Today just slept and slept, with more clammy "responsibility dreams" where I let everyone down and managed to lose someone's prized ruby that was the size of a half an egg.  Just to complicate matters this fabulous gem belonged (but exists only in my dream, I must hasten to add) to my ex-husband's ex-wife (in reality he did remarry, the same year I did, in 2003, but it didn't last long for them) and her new husband (who does exist, they live in NY State).  I'd put it on a high shelf so their baby (who also exists, in the USA, with them) wouldn't put it in its mouth and choke on it, but it had been stolen in the night.

Why I was in charge of my ex-husband's ex-wife's baby I have no idea, but there's dreams for you.

Meanwhile it was suddenly Xmas Eve and The Husband (my lovely second spouse, who wouldn't hurt a flea, let alone me) kept insisting on going to the pub and standing rounds of drinks and spending a fortune, and he hadn't even wrapped his Xmas presents.  At 11.30pm with only a half hour left to Xmas Day, still shirking all his seasonal responsibilities and now neglecting my sisters and their families, (who'd all descended on us for the holiday, bizarrely), he tried to drive off with some woman he'd known in the past to yet another pub.  Aghast, heart-broken, and fearful for his safety I tried slow him down by grabbing the back bumper (which was a nice old-fashioned chrome one, held on by bolts, not an integral part of the bodywork) tore it clean off the car and smashed the back window with it until they stopped.

Shades of Mrs Tiger Woods, eh?

In the midst of all this convoluted dreaming I heard a knock on the door which I groggily dismissed as part of my diseased imaginings, especially as The Dog was with me on the bed and he didn't react to it at all.  A little later, when I was half-up and about, leastways slobbing about shambolically in my dressing gown, I checked if there was any post to find a pile of eBay parcels, Xmas cards and letters in the porch atop which was a pack of luxury mince pies and a Camembert.  Flummoxed, I tried to think who the mystery benefactor might be.  A visitor for the lodger?  How strange, if so - surely his friends would know he'd be a work.

OMG NO!  A horrible dawn of realisation crept over me (shamefully, it was by now the middle of the afternoon - I don't DO mornings in the winter, especially if unwell, so "dawn" isn't quite the word I should have used there).  It was a neighbour who'd I'd invited over for tea before I'd got ill.  But surely she was coming on Thursday? Tomorrow.

A quick trip to the wall calendar confirmed it was Thursday. Today.

I've somehow lost a day in the muddle of being poorly, and so now my name is as much mud when I am awake as when I was asleep.  There is no place to hide from my incompetence and dilatory nature, both real and imagined.  I shall have to take up residence in Grovelsville day and night until I get myself sorted OUT.  I've sent an abjectly apologetic e-mail (I also can't find her phone number; is there no end to the error of my ways?) and will try to make amends by not touching the mince pies and cheese until we can enjoy them together.

Tomorrow I must get up and dressed good and early and take them round to hers for elevenses.  Along with a big fat juicy slice of home-made humble pie.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

On The Powers of Suggestion

I am again doing the one-fingered typing, lying on my side leaning on my elbow, in bed, with The Dog at my back.  Day 2 of Being Poorly In Bed, and the novelty is waning.

In the days of The Daughter's childhood, if she were off school with a cold, after a while if she seemed a bit perkier I'd suggest she got up and put her dressing gown on, if not actually get dressed, and come downstairs.  The mere act of becoming vertical can often make one feel so much less ill.  It sets one right in some way, being upright.  Is it that the balance of the four humours resettles itself?  You'd have to ask an alchemist or an apothecary. Certainly the phlegm gets a chance to drain away, phlegm in its modern sense, that is, all the grot that is stuffing up the spaces of the face.  Not phlegm in the ancient sense, one of the aforementioned humours.  That's something else entirely, although (without a trip to Google) I couldn't tell you what exactly, except that it gives rise to a phlegmatic personality. Which is preferable to being choleric or melancholic, in this writer's view, and about as good as sanguine.  But I digress...

Slobbing around in a robe doesn't work the full restorative magic. Getting up and dressed, with proper shoes on, not slippers, is the most efficacious option, as it brings with it the idea that one might even Go Outside.  This is a big step when one has been coddling a molly.  Outside, after all, is where the Well People are, so by crossing the threshold one might become one of their number.  Is being ill perhaps more enjoyable? Does one want to indulge it - and by extension oneself - yet more or does one want to begin to try to shake it off?

Easy does it though, there's no rush.  A nice hot bath first/?  See how that goes, and then consider the option to put on day clothes and potter about the house a bit, or if that prospect overwhelms, pop on some fresh PJs and have another little lie down.

(Addendum.  I got into day clothes, as the temptation of a new dress off eBay which arrived in today's post was too much to ignore.  It's by Sandwich, a designer I discovered  a few weeks ago in the mid-Wales boutique I praised to the skies on here.  It cost me - wait for it - £2.20 with £3 P&P, for a dress which would have been at least £80 or £90 new.  Hooray!!! I am wearing it with a long sleeved T under and my boots, also bought in Wales which have hardly been off my feet since I got them).

New clothes = almost total cure, by the way

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Coddling My Molly

I have taken my tonsils off to bed, the better to take care of them.  The back of my throat is an arc of raw red, with a bright pink uvula descending therefrom and a yellow-spotted tonsil on one end.  I think spots like these will march over the red arc and take up residence on the other tonsil before long.  Every once in a while I get up to look in The Husband's magnified shaving mirror to see what progress this pesky pathogen has made.  It's doing very well so far in its colonisation of my soft palate. I'm impressed.

The Dog is with me, lying curled up just behind my bum, comfortingly.  I am lying on my side typing this with one finger.  The other finger I normally use to type is on the hand attached to the arm which is propping my head up, so otherwise engaged.  The Dog has been with me all day.  He does this when someone is in bed a bit poorly.  It's the pack mentality - everyone moves at the rate of the slowest.  In this case no movement at all.

I had the most bizarre dream this morning.  In it I had engaged the services of a very expensive singing teacher, from London, who'd brought up his star soprano for me to do duets with - I was paying her as well.  We were in a village hall which I had hired (yet more expense) and when we broke off for refreshments they were provided by the local WI (was I reimbursing them too?).  I drank only water, a strange dry dusty water which made me thirstier and more parched than I had been before.  In the second half of the lesson I couldn't sing properly, only croak, so I was treated to the expensive ignominy of the guest soprano being wonderful and myself sounding like a bull frog. I apologised to the teacher who chided me sternly, saying I was always getting ill and that had put paid to all the careers I'd ever attempted.

Which is true, but my dream had no business rubbing it in.

When I woke up I had sandpaper where my soft palate should be and a feeling of profound failure left over from the dream. And so I determined to stay in bed feeling sorry for myself all day, only getting up to make hot honey and lemon.  Now we have a laptop I have all I need in milady's boudoir - Facebook, e-mail, eBay, this blog, i-player and 4oD.  Add to that the phone and The Dog's gently reassuring ministrations I'll be as right as rain by, ooooh, about Friday, I think...

Monday, 6 December 2010

Tinsel & Tonsils

Got the tree(s) up good and early, as always.  The traditional date for The Husband and myself to deck the halls is 1 December.

This has been going on since 2000, making this Christmas our eleventh spent together.  It was decided we would counteract the years I'd endured of the bloody-minded Bah Humbug tendencies of The Daughter's Father with lashings of other extreme, all Yo Ho Ho and bonhomie.  Not No Tree (which had been a feature of the early years of marriage #1 - her father relented when The Daughter got old enough to ask for one) but a Splendid Tree on 1 December.  And never again will I be given a pair of kitchen scissors or new oven gloves as a present from my spouse.  Yes, honestly, you read aright. One year I had the scissors and another year oven gloves, and not as silly stocking fillers, as my ONLY present. One never-to-be forgotten year I got nothing whatsoever.  And yet he was surprised when I eventually divorced him...

We have added little traditions along the way, now I am joyfully ensconced in marriage #2, which has nothing in common with the first one except my presence as the wife.  One tradition is always drinking snowballs whilst decorating the tree and house.  Our recipe for this seasonal cocktail is a splash of brandy, a dash of lime, 1/3 glass Warninks Advovcat, topped up with well-chilled good quality fizzy lemonade.  Plus a couple of maraschino cherries on a cocktail stick on the side of the glass and maybe a few drops of the syrup into the snowball mix. I find I can't drink them with the enthusiasm we once held for them.  But I must have at least one on 1 December.

This year we brought in the live tree which we got last year because we felt sorry for it.  It was straggly and scrawny but we thought with some TLC we might be able to fatten it up.  After 6 January we planted it up in a half barrel filled with coniferous compost, and in the spring the end of each branch and twig had an encouraging spurt of lime-green new growth.  We watered it in hot weather and turned it a 90 degrees a month so each side of the tree got a little holiday in the sun.  The top two-thirds of the tree looks OK, but it must have got off to a bad start as the bottom "rung" of branches is a skinny and the second "rung" doesn't exist at all.  An entire year's growth is completely missing.  Which makes for a very uneven Xmas tree as there is little or nothing to hang baubles etc off in the bottom third of the tree.  I have been wondering if we could confect and add a ring of imported branches to bulk it up.  Meanwhile we sing "Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree, how feeble are your branches...!" at it, somewhat cruelly.

We have dressed it as well as we can to disguise its wants and deformities, winding extra lights and tinsel where the branches ought to be, but The Husband says it nevertheless looks "like a tramp in a suit"

Another tradition is we buy a few extra baubles and decorations every year.  This year I toddled off to Homebase on this errand to find all artificial trees and lights were half-price, so I went a bit mad and "spent some silly money", as my late mother would have had it. I got a 4ft tree, a string of 80 LED lights and about two dozen gold and two dozen lime green baubles,  I have always wanted a tree with lime green baubles.  So now I have one, in the corner of the living room, on a table.

I wanted gold tinsel for it, and bought three strands, but haven't used it.  It is too lustrously thick and heavy-looking.  I like thin, skinny, well-worn tinsel, but thin tinsel is no longer The Thing. I may have to trim the stuff I got with scissors to get it to fit with my post-war rationing concept of tinsel, like the stuff we had in the 1950s.

So that's the tinsel of the title dealt with.  What of the tonsils?  Well, I developed an inflamed right tonsil in the night, and swollen glands and earache on that side .  Examination in the magnified side The Husband's shaving mirror shows an enlarged tonsil with few yellowish spots thereon, textbook tonsillitis.  Swallowing is a scratchy, ouchy affair.  I need nourishment that is smooth and unctuous, and will slide past easily, preferably chilled.

Another snowball maybe...

Saturday, 13 November 2010

My [Husband] is an hairy man

The Husband has been experimenting with his facial hair of late.  He hasn't shaved for about ten days, having heard about MOVEMBER [sic] a campaign to grow a MOustache in NoVEMBER to raise awareness of prostate cancer.  Only he is going for the full set and is attempting a beard as well.

He's had a beard once before, a good few years ago, but he removed it because of a disturbing side effect that he just couldn't tolerate. People, especially other men, started to take him seriously.  No, it was worse than that, they hung on his every word and listened with such respect it was as though he were wise man, a guru.  The beard conveyed such gravitas his every utterance was elevated to the status of holy scripture.  It freaked him out, and the beard had to go so he could be silly again.

Last time he had a beard he had luxuriant long hair, which no doubt added to the messianic quality.  These days, as his hairline has receded too much to sport a pony tail any longer, he is usually shorn to about one or two millimeters, so maybe he will grow his hair as well or else, as he just said this morning, "it will look as though I have my head on upside down".

He had a moustache in his youth.  We have a photo from that time in which, The Daughter insists, "he looks like a Belgian porn star" (how she'd know...?  Too much Eurotrash at a formative age, I am thinking)

which is probably why he's gone for the full set now

Nothing much else has been happening, apart from The Husband's increasing hirsuitism, which is why my blog hasn't appeared.  I have been crocheting again,

another cot blanket for another baby expected in the early New Year.  I am giving the first one to the mummy-to-be at her baby shower this Sunday.  It's the one nearest the camera in this picture;

A group of us are meeting up for a cream tea in a smart Cotswold hotel to make a fuss of her. This is an American import I am glad to adopt (unlike trick or treating, which baffles me - we caution small children to avoid strangers for 364 days of the year and then on the 365th we send them out into the cold dark night to bang on the doors of people we don't know.  Please explain...) as it is an all-female celebration of we women's ability to grow new human beings in our tummies, which (when it isn't thought of as an extra scene from Alien) is pretty damned clever of us.  And tea in a posh hotel is a fab idea.  Can't wait, to get all dressed up and go out and be dainty.

Just as well The Husband isn't invited.  With a ten-day's growth he probably wouldn't get across the threshold.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Black Magic on a Dark Night

The Husband fixed the lock on the driver's door of our car last night.  He started on it at half past four, just as the dusk was deepening.  He spent four hours of his precious free time hard at it, mostly outside, in the dark, with a tiny key fob torch as his only task illumination. My Hero!

Periodically he'd come in to look at the lock in decent lighting, thaw out a bit and wash his filthy oily hands, which were as black as the night he'd come in from.  Then he'd gaze into the inner workings (or should that be inner NOT workings?) and fiddle and click and snap and prod, murmuring Man Words like sprocket and flange.  Not the actual words "sprocket" or "flange", you understand.  These were other, even more esoteric, Man Words.  Which I couldn't understand or hardly even hear so can't be expected to remember.  They were Man Words for use whilst doing important Willy Jobs, like fixing car door locks, that much I do know.

Spellbindingly Magical Man Words, as it turned out, with the power to transmute base metals into Jolly Useful Things as finally, after lots of tweaking, bending and fettling of wires and little levers and other sundry mechanical bits (and a brief break to eat his dinner) he had everything back in its correct place and the lock at last worked smoothly again.  The look on the husband's face when he reached this point was a picture.  One almost expected a cartoon light bulb to switch on above his head.  A eureka moment.

At about 9.00pm he went back out to the November night and fitted the lock into place in the door. By braille, I think (I wonder if he was a safe-cracker or a jemmy man in a previous, much more nefarious, life?)

I poured him a huge glass of red and ran him a hot bath  A man who can fix broken car locks deserves a valet, even if only for half an hour.
So today I was able get in and out of the driver's seat the good old orthodox way which we usually all take for granted, via the driver's door, in a seemly elegant fashion, a bit like this

rather than the palaver of contortion I'd been obliged to do of late.  Which was

1)   open passenger door
2)   sit in passenger seat
3)   lean over to slide the driver's seat back as far as it would go
4)   swing legs over so feet are in the driver's foot well
5)   haul huge fat arse over the hand brake and into the driver's seat
6)   fume and swear quite a bit
7)   reposition car seat to taste, at preferred distance from steering wheel
8)   adjust mirrors, checking how red and sweaty face is after the exertion

All without showing one's knickers, or the certificate would have to go back to the Lucy Clayton school.

Thank you, Husband Mine.  I think he deserves another huge glass of red for that, now he's back in from earning our daily crust.  I'm away to pour a couple.  CHEERS!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

May the Good Lord deliver us...

I went leafleting for the Labour Party earlier in the week.  Whilst we were away in Wales at the weekend 200 printed sheets of A4 were delivered to the house, accompanied by a map with a handful of nearby residential streets marked out in fluorescent pink. This is not an entirely random course of events. I am a (new) member of the Labour Party and I did, in a weak moment, offer to distribute leaflets.  This was the lesser of two evils, vastly preferable to what was first asked to do, which was to stand as a councillor in the local elections next year.  EEEEK!  See my first ever blog on here for how I feel about being anyone's elected representative. A keen sense of public duty is not on Goldenlady's short list of virtues.

So, as Monday was bright and sunny, myself, The Dog and the 200 leftist leaflets set off for the area of town on the map.  The Husband and I had already folded the A4 sheets into thirds so they'd more easily go through a letter box. I am justifiably nervous about other people's letter boxes.  Having distributed charity envelopes in the past I know that the draught-excluding flaps on many of them are sprung like mantraps on an evil squire's estate.  I took the precaution of wearing leather gloves to increase my chances of returning endowed with the same number of digits I'd had when I left home.

I could see at a glance that the area I had been sent to wasn't going to house many active Labour supporters.  A good bunch of the addresses would be unlikely to have inhabitants who were very active at anything any more, being warden-assisted flats or bungalows.  As if in confirmation of this, as I struggled to open the letter box flap of one little bungalow, the door opened to reveal a somber group standing in the hallway.  Their spokeswoman told me the lady who lived there had just passed away.
I didn't offer to leave a few leaflets for them to peruse whilst they waited for the hearse, you'll be pleased to read. I thought it better to apologise for my intrusion and withdraw, tugging The Dog away forcibly. He'd got wind of the funeral baked meats, I think, and was halfway across the threshold.  Bugger.

The rest of the addresses were private properties of the "nice" type which I am pretty sure house mostly members of the 50% of our town's electorate who voted Conservative in May 2010 and helped Cameron into No 10. Every time I put a leaflet through one of the doors it felt like an exercise in futility.  The Dog didn't rate it much either.  He seemed distinctly fed up trotting in through gates, up to front doors, standing patiently while I fumbled in the bag for the next leaflet and fought to prise open the draught-excluding mechanism, only to be dragged away to do it all over again at the next house.

He obviously didn't like repeatedly being led up the garden path, and who can blame him.

I managed to do about a third of the addresses I'd be allotted in a very frustrating three-quarters of an hour.  This means that I have to go out for an hour or two at some point this week to finish the job. But I shan't take The Dog with me with this time. With a mistress on a mission he can't get a decent stop-and-sniff dog walk going, which deprives him of the vital social aspect of his exercise, reading pee-mails and catching up on all the doggy goss.

I can't explain to him why I am doing it, as it's hard enough explaining to myself. No dog would join a political party of any persuasion. They have more sense.

So do most humans...

Monday, 1 November 2010

Mirror, mirror, on the wall...

I've done some investment shopping over the weekend.  What an oxymoron THAT is, the idea of investing by spending. It's what one deludes oneself into thinking one has done when one lays out an outrageous amount of money (well, outrageous for this one...) on a couple of wardrobe items, which - the aim is - are so classic and of such high quality they will last and be still chic season after season.

The last time I did this was five years ago when I spent "money and fair words" (an expression my mother used to employ to mean she wasn't going tell us how much) on a silk tweed jacket by the Irish designers Quin & Donnelly.  It has been admired and draws comments whenever worn, whether formally with a skirt or tailored trousers or flung on above a pair of jeans.

It still feels and looks fabby, and will forever, I think, unless we do one day all start wearing plastic and aluminium like 1950s sci-fi film costumes.

This Saturday I toddled off to my favourite shoe shop in mid-Wales in search of new boots. I feel triumphant that I managed to get a pair which were full-length for the price one often pays for ankle boots.  I fact the ankle boots in the same design were only £15 less, something of an anomoly - the shoe-shopkeeper thought they maybe had been undercharged (but had more good sense than to check) and were passing the extra saving straight to the customer.  I decided forthwith to be that customer.

Much emboldened by these beautiful calf-skin boots at a price that hadn't made me faint dead away

I mentioned as I paid for them that I might need some new leggings.  The shoe-shopkeeper recommended the boutique a few doors a way.  This was all in the small Welsh market town where I have a house (for weekends, holidays and eventual retirement). I try as much as I can to support the local traders as most aren't major chains but one man/woman bands or family businesses. I ventured into the boutique in some trepidation as the things in there are fabulous but with prices so much outside my usual budget I've never so much as tried anything on before.

I asked after leggings.  What I was shown were not mere machine-knitted leggings, glorified footless tights,  like all those I'd met with before, and carried a tag to reflect this - three times the price of a pair of good leggings in, say, M&S.  But these weren't they, though, these were something else - cut, sculpted, tailored to fit with seams and darts into the waistband and made of the thickest imaginable cotton jersey (with a sprinkling of that magic word Lycra).  They were more jodhpurs than leggings, in a greyish dark brown like the gills of a mushroom.

I tried to resist, even looked at others at a less alarming price, but they kept calling me back to them.  So I slipped into a changing cubicle and tried them - the proprietress had sized me up at a glance and handed me the right ones for my - aherm - figure.  Fishing out the new boots from their box and tissue paper I pulled them up over the leggings and zipped.

The main mirror was a huge French-style looking-glass in the large changing and viewing area at the back of the shop.  I stepped in front of it to be treated to the sight of Goldenoldenlady in jodhpurs and boots like a heroine from a Jilly Cooper novel, all set off by a vast ornate gold frame  Well, slap my thigh! I thought. I almost caught sight again of my young self in my late twenties togged up ready to sing Cherubino, one of the many breeches parts that falls to mezzo-sopranos, encostumed thus:

The intervening quarter century melted away -  I was smitten.

The proprietress knew her job and her stock.  She called an assistant over to get a what she called "the waistcoat" by the same designer (Sandwich) in the same shade of brown in my size.  And a scoop-necked long-sleeved jersey dress/tunic to go under it.  I loved the dress but for an odd detail in the cut that pulled it skew-whiff.  This I could see was a deliberate act to achieve an asymmetry that is fashionable just now but it was too outlandish for me, and in any case it looked just like a dress does when a girl has inadvertently tucked the hem in her knickers.  But the waistcoat was captivating, in finely knitted fabric which draped and fell in folds with a tie belt that flatteringly fastened just below the bust where we are always our slimmest, even when (as I am now) at our most matronly.

The Proprietress was not just a shopkeeper, I was starting to realise.  She was a Seductress, and I her vulnerable prey.  And do you know what?  It didn't even hurt.

I totted up what the total would be once added to the boots I already had.  More than I'd spent on myself at one fell swoop for many, many a year.  I am out of the habit.  I do Sales and charity shops, I don't do this sort of thing.  Insofar as I have ever been able to do it, I am certainly out of practice now.

Oh, I am undone!  I cried, liked a wronged Victorian maiden.  I struggled and fought.  I protested and pleaded (all in my head, of course, as one doesn't want to be taken as too eccentric in a town where one will eventually live) but it was all for naught. I had been bewitched on a Hallowe'en weekend, and was under the spell of myself looking tall, and quite slim (for me) and very very cool.

I gradually realised why the look worked.  The shop was for my age-group and not for mutton to dress as lamb.  It was a boutique for women from 40 upwards who still wanted to cut a dash and engage in the world of fashion, once it had been muted and transmuted into garments that could be worn by a sensible lady in her later years.  I fell happily - very happily - into its marketing demographic, and with an experienced eye and honed instinct the Proprietress could see at a glace what would suit me.  It was a personal shopping service such as I hadn't experienced ever before and I loved it.

I put my card through her machine and still it didn't hurt. I added my name and local address to the mailing list and decided that after 2016, when we are retired in that town and blithely spending our grey pound, I shall be a regular client of this fabulous emporium

Thursday, 28 October 2010

All Present and Correct

Had some concerned messages and even phone calls wondering where Goldenoldenlady has got to of late.  Thought I'd better add a bulletin to reassure you all.

I've been a bit poorly.  Not only is the SAD deepening (now sleeping roughly 12 hours out of every 24) but I've had sinusitis to boot. "To boot" is an apt phrase, as at its worse it felt as though someone's foot had found my left cheek and given it a good hard prod with a steel toe-cap.  Left facial cheek, that is.  Though a good kick up the arse wouldn't have gone amiss lately.  I am so sluggish, de-motivated and passive.  I have consoled myself that a) The Husband heroically doesn't mind as he wholly accepts that this annual slump in my energy levels isn't anything I choose b) not going out or logging on means I'm not spending any money, so my bank account is gradually filling up in time for Christmas and c) I've finished the crochet cot blanket in good time for the baby shower next month.

As you can imagine, living such a dull, cocooned, somnambulant life doesn't offer me much to write about.  Which is why I've spared my handful of loyal followers the ordeal of having to read any Goldenoldenlady witterage for the past few days. I've been waiting for life to pick up so I could find that little kernel of  comedy in our daily existence that would lend itself to being described and commented on at length. Meanwhile I've been busy with some genealogical research again.  The Husband has brought from his mother's house an album of old family photos from the 1930s, covering his father's last year at Malvern College where he was a sporty type (here he is on the left having helped win the Gym Cup for his house)

There are photos from the trip he took to Canada and the USA after leaving school, and from his first year at Cambridge where he read medicine.  I've pulled off a bit of a coup with one photo which was taken on 11 November 1938 (his nineteenth birthday).

It shows four undergraduates in fancy dress, from left to right there is a trampy-looking chap with a staff and a loose bundle of straw, two fellows in a cow costume (The Husband's dad is the rear end) and another chap in a white coat and natty argyle socks carrying a stethoscope, smoking a pipe.  The last character is captioned as  "Hooky".  I am guessing this is one of the tutors or lecturers in medicine at the time.

I looked at the photo and the usual genealogical questions crowded my brain.

Who? is taken care of

D J Morton   F T Falkener    The Husband's dad   and   J Hutchinson

four (probably long-dead) medical students

Why?  It could be just undergraduate high jinks, but they are carrying collecting tins so it most probably was a charity event.  If they were only messing about they would have been in all likelihood rusticated (suspended, temporarily sent down) because of the answer to


11 November 1938, which was Armistice Day, exactly twenty years after the end of the Great War (at that point a second world war seemed likely but not certain, so the 1914-18 war hadn't acquired the First before it), a highly significant and solemn day. Only a charity event involving such silliness would have been tolerated (assuming it was!) in daylight hours on Armistice Day.  It was also The Husband's dad's nineteenth birthday, coincidentally, and they are medical students so maybe beer had been partaken of at some point.

Where? was more of a problem.  Cambridge obviously.  But which college?  The Husband's family doesn't know which college his dad went to, obviously it wasn't greatly talked about.  Cool!  Not ones for boasting, then.

So I set about doing some photo research, looking mostly at architectural styles. I found a hugely useful website of illustrated walks around Cambridge which had photos of all the main college gates. The gate in our photo is very similar to the main gate of Gonville and Caius, and being Romanesque in style it is quite unusual in Cambridge where Gothic and Tudor predominates. Perhaps it was a side or back gate?  I laughingly suggested to The Husband we make a day trip there in the warmer weather and have a stroll around to find it.  He agreed it would be fun.  Then I realised I could have a virtual stroll using the little yellow man icon on Google maps.  I set him down in the street outside Caius (pronounced Keys, the co-founder Mr Keys adopted a Latin spelling of his name) and as we sauntered around the corner THERE it was, the exact gate outside which my late father-in-law had capered about being the arse-end of a cow on his 19th birthday in 1938.

Why did it matter so much to me to find the very spot where the photo was taken?  It's the historical detective in me, I suppose.  And I don't like to be beat.  I like to marshall my facts, have them all present and correct, and I believe that the oddest most minuscule facts can be found out, even over decades of intervening time, if one knows how to look and just keeps at it.  A liberal arts degree has taught me how to look, to research, the rest is just caring enough to persevere.  And I do care, especially about The Husband, and by extension his dad who had died a good few years before the two of us met, but "would have loved [me]", so all the remaining family says.

Now I just have to find out if it was true he had a Boxing Blue.  An approach to the Cambridge University Amateur Boxing Club might yield something there. I'm off to find the contact details - wish me luck!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Wherein I Tip Out The Contents of My Brain into the Waiting Void

I am very hesitant to type anything today.  Our life is so cosily uneventful now autumn has descended that I've got bog-all of interest to write about.  Or should that be blog-all?   So yesterday I decided not to bother anybody with this stupid blog stuff, but the could I? should I? would I? questions, the nagging of a promise broken, a duty shirked, bothered me all day.  It was so much on the periphery of my mind I might better have just settled down and got it over and done with, even if it was as much unmitigated tosh as today's threatens to be, for all the genuinely free time I had.

Free time with a clear conscience is perhaps the only sort of free time a person brought up in the English Protestant work ethic can ever enjoy.  Damn it.  They GOT me in the end, those devil-makes-work warnings, for all my decades of practised indolence...

I was busy enough to see off Satan, I think, even though I was neglecting you, Dear Reader.  I have now crocheted enough squares towards the cot blanket I am making (for The Daughter's in-pod childhood friend) that I decided to arrange what I had and stitch them together to gauge more clearly how the finished item might look. I am smugly pleased that is coming together nicely.  It almost has some of that those jewelled-casket qualities that Viennese secessionist Gustav Klimt achieved a century ago in the hypnotically swirling mosaic patchworks in many of his pictures, such as The Kiss. It's as yummily multi-coloured as half a pound of cellophane and foil-wrapped mixed sweets. Edibly pretty.  I'm very happy with it so far.

It isn't a Kaffe Fasett design, but it jolly well could be at a glance, and it's All My Own Work. I hope the expected infant appreciates it, that (s)he is an aesthete, born with an in-built appreciation of decadently useless sumptuousness stitched in springy wool, a suggestion of silk and (just one special hank of yarn) even threads of cashmere.  But most probably, being a baby, (s)he will sleep on in milky innocence, utterly indifferent to hue and texture, and puke on it with impunity.

Something else that has kept us apart these few days, Dear Reader, is that I've also just rediscovered our  Sky Arts channels.  These are so far up the list on our cable TV box (at channel numbers 284 & 285) that I virtually never get that far from just flicking.  What a pity, as they yield much most days; an episode of The Jewel in The Crown, this afternoon, O Frabjous Joy (Harry Kumar & Guy Perron, what a pair of matinee idols they are!) followed by the ENO's 2009 La Boheme in a production by Sir/Dr Jonathan Miller, the latter-day renaissance man, mind-boggling clever bugger, and all round good egg who makes me feel even more of a rank failure and disappointment to myself than I usually do.  All that cross-curricular learning beneath his hat and bloody funny with it. How many Good Fairies stood by his crib, I wonder?  They must have been jostling!

Unfortunately it grated on me that it was sung in English, even though it's a new translation by Amanda Holden (no, not that Amanda Holden, silly!) a colloquial version far and away better than earlier translations of the libretto that gave us Tiny Frozen Hands and such.  It nevertheless still clunked along for me, clod-hoppingly anglo-saxon and ungainly, having lost the seductive power and easy sinuous flow of the familiar Italian. I'd rather be tugged inexorably along by the melodic tide and the growing tragedy understanding one word in five, than have my attention annoyingly held back grasping so much of the literal meaning. In matters of libretti, ignorance is bliss for me, I now realise

Give me "Addio, senza rancor..." anyday.  How can anyone render the romantic pathos of that in an English argot?  "Tara, then, and don't feel bad..."  That'd scan.  Naah.  Not going to do it for me - I've cut loose well in advance of Rudolfo & Mimi's exquisitely poignant farewell in Act Three before it gets all spoilt.

So here I am, back in the blogoshere, but you can all too easily detect that the titchy, but essential, 1% of comic inspiration is eluding me.  It isn't enough to pound away with the 99% of sweat and effort; producing any quantity without quality  It's not fair on that select coterie, my eight (including myself) Followers and anyone else who lands here on the way to somewhere else, and it wears yet more of the the letters off the buttons on my keyboard for no good reason.

My keyboard is printed with the identifying letters in white on black..  The most commonly used letters are wiped clean with (over?) use.  It looks rather like this

Q  -  -  -  -  Y  U - O  P
 -  -  -  F  G  H  J  K -
  Z  X  C  V  B - M

where the I and the L are no more helpful than little white dots and likely won't last out the week

The Husband bought me a new wireless keyboard and mouse a while ago, but these infuriated me beyond endurance as you have to get them playing nicely with the other bits of the pooter before you can start and the batteries run out so quickly that one has to remember always to have spares on charge.  I reverted to the old ones and their tangled wires with relief and now even more buttons are blank.  Which wouldn't bother a touch-typist, but sure as hell challenges a two-fingered sight-typer like me.

Enough of this nonsense, already.  You go and find something better to do, Dear Reader, and I will do the same.  The arty-farty bohemian baby blanket is nothing like Klimt, not really, but it still deserves more perseverance than my lack-lustre blog has of late.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Normal Service will be Resumed as Soon as Possible

I am in the doldrums.  It's not just me, either.  The view out of the window behind my monitor is as still as a picture, not a breath of wind, not a stirring of a single leaf.  We are becalmed here in the Northern Home Counties.  Perhaps that's why I am struggling to find a topic to pursue, any tiny domestic event I can blow out of all proportion, Goldenoldenlady-style, and make last a few hundred words on here.

It's hard to create a storm in a teacup without a spoon.  On a flat calm day like today setting the scene for a drama with "It was a dark and stormy night..." would be a bit too much of a stretch. Excuse me while I go back to staring out of the window for a moment, chin on hand, elbow on desk, eyes focused on the middle distance.

Do you remember primary school days and lower down the forms at secondary school when one had to do some imaginative writing in exam conditions?  Gosh, wasn't that difficult to get going on, imaginative writing to order? Little stories, as they'd be thought of before the age of 11, "compositions" as we learnt to call them at Big School. The second term is helpful, I think, holding in it a reminder that one perhaps has to compose oneself before one can compose anything else.

I've heard tell, or read somewhere once, that when J S Bach was working at a church in Leipzig he had to write new choral music for the main service every Sunday.  The piece had to be finished by Thursday so the choir could learn the notes and rehearse, then it was sung on the Sunday, to tremendous and astonished acclaim, and on Monday morning he started the creative process all over again.

Because printed lined manuscript paper was - assuming it was available at all locally - prohibitively expensive back in the first half of the C18th, most of his Monday was spent making his own; laboriously and menially drawing staves, neat groups of lines, on blank paper, enough pages for the multiple copies of the new piece he had yet to write.  I imagine this would be a full score for himself at the organ, and a copy each of their parts for the choristers.  He could have got one or two of the older ones from his musically schooled children (he had twenty at the final count - yes, TWENTY) to do this for him, but he didn't elect to do that.  There must have been some advantage he gained from doing it himself. So Bach's Monday was often just ruling and lining, ruling and lining, a zen-like practice which occupied hand and eye whilst his mind stirred into existence the first phrases and chord progressions of his next motet or cantata.

I perhaps need something like Bach's manuscript paper preparation to get me going today. I don't even have to sharpen a pencil, or change a typewriter ribbon, not with a word-processor.  I have no ruminative prepping chore to perform, no paints to mix, to chisels to sharpen, to instrument to tune, no vegetables to chop, no wool to untangle. Today I am feeling the lack of a task which will turn the key in the door of whatever mental room it is we humans inhabit when we settle down to write.

But I do have a heap of washing up from last night's dinner, far more than will fit in the dishwasher, and a lot of residual food burnt on pots and pans in a way that no dishwasher can tackle, whatever the lying, thieving detergent manufacturers claim in their adverts.  Maybe standing at another window with my hands in hot soapy water will free a productive thought from my stodgy dumpling of a brain.  If so, I'll type again later. If not, you will be left with just this for today; the blog equivalent of the test card which came up on our screens when TV in the old days failed to transmit.

Please do not adjust your set.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Ten Weeks in a Tunnel is No Joking Matter

Apologies in advance that today's effort will break some of Goldenoldenlady's self-imposed rules of blog-composition.  It is by way of a commentary on current affairs, which I'd aimed to avoid, and it isn't going to be hugely funny.  To be honest it won't raise a titter, unless unintentionally.

This is because I've been thinking about 5 August 2010 a lot this week.  I've been trying to remember what I was doing that day and what I have seen, heard, done, enjoyed, witnessed and celebrated in the weeks since.  So I've looked back to the e-mails I sent around that day, as they are the nearest I have to a journal, or were until I started this blog.  I have this from 6 August, to The Daughter, all names changed to protect the guilty and preserve the anonymity of the innocent

What a hell of a day it was yesterday.  [Your boyfriend's father's] major op [for cancer], [The Husband] being told about [his bro-in-law]'s affair and being so upset for [his sister], my having to go into a pitched battle with the care agency rep.  No wonder I have developed a humungous stye from the stress of the last.  My left eyelid is red and puffy and so sore, with the beginnings of a pimple. 


I was exhausted by the end of the meeting.  The social worker was good though.  [My mother-in-law] was very upset, [The Husband] was having to placate her throughout.  She was vociferously telling everyone she can cook a meal, knit, crochet, do her own washing and housework, none of which is true.  She said “go up in the spare room and see the embroidery I am doing...”.  It hasn’t been touched for about twenty years.  She was holding her end up but it was all a delusion of her dementia.  And the [Care Agency] rep went on to the attack about some of the family's actions and the state of the kitchen, which I can tell you was a BIG mistake...

...especially with everything I know about her irregularities. Which I am about to put in an e-mail to the social worker (she asked for a written complaint about the agency and said e-mail would do).

All the way through I could have put my head in my hands and wept, or got up, left the house and driven to Wales, but I had to stay and fight for [The Family]  as [The Husband] doesn’t like conflict, [his sister] is heart-broken and out of the loop and Our Ma thinks it’s the late 1980s.

This went on for an hour-and-a-half.

I guess I was having a really bad day, or so it seemed at the time.  But at least I was fighting my battle above ground.  I wasn't one of thirty-three Chilean gold-miners trapped by an immense rockfall half a mile underground with just about enough rations for 48 hours. Which had to last until contact could be made by the outside world, if it ever would be. They had air in that shaft, in the pre-arranged refuge set up for such dreadful eventualities, but it was stiflingly hot and of very poor quality.  It took two-and-a-half weeks for the narrow bore shaft being drilled by the rescuers to reach them, at which point improved air quality, communication, medicine (including anti-depressants), food and drink, physical and spiritual sustenance, love, hope and promises of rescue could be funnelled through it.  Rescue "by Christmas".  This at the very beginning of September.

What was that nonsense I typed yesterday about not bringing Christmas forward (or at least the crassly commercial aspects) and celebrating everything in the right order and on the due date?  Forget I ever spoke.  Which of us wouldn't have just this once had Christmas in the summer hols, eating turkey on the beach like our antipodean cousins are wont to do, if that would have got those fellows out quicker?

Being buried alive is fairly high-up on anyone's list of living nightmares.  Those first seventeen days are unimaginable to anybody who hasn't had a parallel experience, perhaps been in a coma or an operation where they can hear but not move or speak. The Victorians had such a horror of being interred alive after being misdiagnosed as dead coffins were often made with bells inside for the roused "corpses" to signal their resurrection, preferably before being put six feet under.  It's deep in the ghastly sludge of the bottom layer of the collective unconscious, being buried alive.

Last night I stayed awake until silly o'clock, watching the last few miners being raised to the surface in that magical out-sized cigar tube.  I guess a good proportion of the world who have TV was similarly glued.  It was, in a way, a little like the moon landing for the intensity of feeling.  And, like that 1960s "miracle," it was actually no such thing.  It wasn't a miracle, it was human endeavour and high technology, in my humanist-atheist view, but call it a miracle if you want.  Certainly the Spanish word milagro was on everyone's lips this past day or two, from the Chilean president to a euphoric cabby in the nearby town of Copiapo.  Belief in a miracle and the felt presence of a good and loving Saviour probably did more than the anti-depressants to keep the miners sane.  So, in that sense, they can have their miracle and gladly.

As I said at the outset I've been thinking what I have enjoyed these past seven weeks whilst Don Lucho and his stalwart subterranean band of brothers sweated in semi-darkness.  We've had much to remember fondly, to photograph and fold away in albums.  We've had high summer running into a warm September, fine sunny days and gentle twilit evenings, sitting outdoors whenever possible to eat al fresco meals. We've enjoyed jolly convivial visits to and from friends and family. There was a wedding attended, yet more admired from a distance through the lenses of those who were there. There was the announcement of a baby on the way for a young couple whose wedding we went to last summer. Our Ma's had her 93rd birthday, a nephew has turned twenty-one, three babies amongst my acquaintance hauled themselves to their feet and learnt to walk, a great-nephew started school. Oh, and the successful resolution of the care review which was causing me such angst on 5 August.

I love the sky.  I love being out beneath it, looking at it, and even being in it, be that in a plane or a microlight, or the balloon ride I hope I'll have a chance to take one day.  I also love my gold jewellery, as if you couldn't guess, what with my blogname and all.  I particularly treasure a chain with a Scandinavian cross, some earrings I've somehow managed to keep in pairs for twenty-odd years, and my rings.  Especially my commitment jewellery, the wedding ring with touch of Welsh gold in it and CARIAD engraved on the inner surface (we married in Wales), the engagement ring with amethysts and diamonds, and the wide gold band with a wavy line incised round it, picked out in tiny diamonds, which The Husband got me when I turned 50, the year after my cancer treatment.  But from now on I'll hold those two loves in the balance even more; The Sky v Gold & Diamonds.  I'd find it hard to enjoy the latter if I contemplated for long the chance that some poor benighted soul had lost any chance of again breathing lungfuls of open air in bringing the ore and the stones to the surface.

In this historic year for Chile, life-changing for all those involved, when thirty-three miners were to all intents and purpose resurrected like their Sovereign Lord, I am sure many, many more workers in gold mines around the world will not be saved, one or two will perish there, a handful elsewhere, in deadly dribs and drabs, but the numbers will never be brought together and held in front of our eyes and conscience by the world's press speaking as one voice, as it has over this rescue.

Many individuals have had their consciousness raised on this issue before now, enough that they already refuse to buy brand-new modern pieces of fine jewellery, especially not gold and diamonds, The Daughter among them. She works for a major NGO and knows quite a bit about the horrendous conditions of employment in the gold and gem industries, the risks taken, and the safety issues ignored, and the dire effects some living conditions around mines have on miners and their families.  She had already set me thinking even before the San Jose mine swallowed up that shift of workers. She aims to wear vintage pieces or antiques when the time comes for her to plight her troth, her logic being that she could have had no influence over what happened fifty, or a hundred or more years ago, but by not buying new she will do nothing to increase demand for newly-mined ore or stones in the future. 

But such individuals are in a tiny minority at present. Entire national populations would need to think the same way to make much difference (and if India could break the fashion for such vast personal collections - dowry-like quantities - of wedding jewellery that would be an 80% cut in annual world-wide gold jewellery demand right there, by some reports).  It will take more than the Naomi Campbell "blood" diamond case and the Chilean miners' rescue to bring about the disappearance of jewellers on the High Street in my lifetime, and it goes against our magpie fascination with flashing, glowing, scintillating shiny things to think it ever will.  So I accept that we humans will in all likelihood always adorn ourselves with precious metals and gems.  It just takes a case like this to remind us why such items are so revered and treasured.  

They are difficult to reach and hard won.  Very hard won indeed.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Yo ho ho, bloody hell NO!

The Husband and I were watching TV with The Dog last night when The Husband groaned audibly and expressed outraged disbelief.

We like (some of) the programmes and The Dog is mad keen on the adverts, so much so we call then his little programmes.  Adverts have a lot of animals in them, even when the product being marketed isn't pet-related.  Check this one out, for instance; the new chocolate Weetabix ad (anthema by the way - chocolate YES, Weetabix CERTAINLY - see yesterday's blog for how many of those I can eat in any one 24-hour period - but any combination thereof is just outlandish), which is pitched squarely at the human family members, yet features a "talking" dog, cat and hamster, and drives our dog into a territorial frenzy.

Animals in the box in the corner of the room have always done this to him, even cartoon ones of just a few sketchily suggestive lines are immediately pounced upon and "seen off".  When he was a newly-brought-home pup, if an animal walked off the screen stage right he'd run into the other room to see where it had gone. Now we have to place obstacles in front of the TV to stop him reaching it, or the screen gets plastered with watered-down snot and doggie lick.

Back to my main clause; "The Husband groaned audibly and expressed outraged disbelief ".  The Husband is a man of saintly tolerance and an easy equanimity of mind.  He doesn't get cross very often even about things that directly impact on him, so he really isn't one to get vexed about stuff out there in the Big Wide World. If he were on Grumpy Old Men he wouldn't be able get mild chunner going, let alone a five-minute diatribe.

So what could have irked him to the point of expressed exasperation?

It was the appearance of Santa Claus in an advert on 12 October, that's what.  Does The Husband not like Christmas, then?  No, the husband loves Christmas, and celebrates it like a beaming Victorian paterfamilias, keeps it as well as any reformed Ebeneezer Scrooge.  He knows The First Husband had a lot of Bah Humbug in him, so on 1 December, every year since we started living together, he has taken me to buy our Christmas tree, and happily hauled down the boxes from the loft, so that I get a decorated house for all the thirty-one days of December and six days of January until Twelfth Night, over five weeks of twinkle, sparkle and festooning.

But that is first day of December. It isn't 12 October, which is nigh-on fifty days short of the even the beginning of December. We haven't even done Hallowe'en and Bonfire Night yet.  Our American cousins haven't eaten a single thankful turkey yet.  UK children haven't even done half a reluctant foot-dragging term of the new academic year yet.

So give it a rest, willya, intoducing Santa Claus into our front rooms in a mid-October which is so balmily mild it hasn't produced more than a hearthrug of fallen leaves.  Let us have the first frost.  Let us at least scrape a windscreen before you sell yule to us.  Can we please do our holidays in the right order with no overlap?

And while I am about it, NO adverts for Creme Eggs on Boxing Day when we are as stuffed as Mr Creosote.  Let's finish the waffer thin mints first.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Alarm Bells

I am going to have to sort out my sleep patterns a bit better, or we'll starve.

I have a pork belly joint in the fridge but I haven't got going on cooking it yet because I am waking up too late (just shy of noon) at the moment, and it takes a minimum of nine hours to reach the required level of sticky unctuousness.  My recent late starts are because I have Seasonally Affective Disorder, which came, I believe, from the Viking antecedents, along with an ability to sing Wagner and make every anecdote a saga.  I have a very Northern European hippocampus.  Get YOU, Goldenlady!  Actually it might have nothing whatesoever to do with a hippocampus but it's the only bit of the brain I can name off-hand apart from cerebral cortex, and I am pretty sure it's not that.  It's another more primative bit that is deeply in tune with the seasons. That much I do know.

Some people can watch seasons come and go without really seeing them.  They may adjust their wardrobe to suit the temperature, but their whole being doesn't change shape and form just because there is an equinox (particularly) or a solstice (less so) in the offing.  Mine does.  My sleep changes and my diet with it. Come September, instead of waking refreshed at 6.30am and hitting the ground running as I have done all summer I will open one reluctant eye and find it is ten o' clock or as near as dammit.  By October the late rising has affected the time I can get properly off to sleep.  It could be as late as 2.00am.  4.00am is not unknown. So of course the waking time gets pushed even further back.  Today it was 11.50am, but at least it was morning.

Dietary changes come with it.  I get a late night carb craving that can even wake me up, and send me staggering for the fridge semi-comatose.  The urge is so strong I am up and walking before I am fully awake.  Sometimes my resting low blood pressure goes with me, so that I swoon woozily in front of the open fridge door and have to lie down on the chilly kitchen floor so I don't black out.

I do try to keep some semblance of control over this small hours' feasting so I have trained myself to eat nothing fatty, just three Weetabix with skimmed milk, and maybe a piece of fruit, and I fight to ensure my unconscious mind is content with that.  Sometimes I eat it just before getting into bed in the hope my unconscious mind won't then wake the rest of me up.  The Husband calls this snack supper my Threetabix.  The Dog watches me keenly throughout and is allowed the last spoonful, but I don't know what he calls it.

You can imagine how disruptive to full social and employment functioning this degree of SAD can be.  When I worked full-time teaching I had to drag myself from the arms of morpheus at 6.30am to ablute, dress, pack the car, drive to school a little ways up the M1.  Often, even on a cold day, I'd have the car window open all the way to keep me awake.  When the SAD trough was at its deepest I'd get as far as ablute and dress and then collapse.  I'd find the idea of walking downstairs and leaving the house so traumatising I'd slump into a sitting position on the top step and sob.  I could usually be mopped up and re-engerised by hug and a swift kindly pep talk from The Husband (then The Boyfriend).  But sometimes this didn't work and I'd have to take a day off sick. This was especially likely in November or February.  These months could be so dire when I was working that the sound of their names still unnerves me.  They have a feel and connotation that no other months have.  Flat, grey, dark, brooding. Why not December and January, then?  Well, December is our festival of light, which helps, and in January everyone is spent up and fed up so I don't stand out much.

What treatment have I tried?  Two main ones. An SSRI (which means I these days feel the physical effects but not the pervasive low mood) and resigning from full-time work.  Which employer wants or needs a staff member who can't get out of bed before noon and isn't a super-model?  Yeah, quite.  I wouldn't hire me.  I once had a light box which I shared with The Daughter (who's inherited the condition) when she lived with us after graduating, but her needs were greater than mine as she has an entire working life ahead of her, so she took it with her.  I adapted my working life to fit the condition, and became a private tutor for a number of years.  My working hours were between 3.00pm and 9.00pm.  Job's a good 'un.

There are some suggestions that SAD is an evolved adaptation, not a disorder at all.  In my view modern  9-5 working practices  (7.30- 6.30 if one factors in a long commute) in electrically-lit workplaces have made this "in-tune with available light" natural state an abnormality rather than biological common sense

Compare what we do with what other sentient beings do;

In many species, activity is diminished during the winter months in response to the reduction in available food and the difficulties of surviving in cold weather. Hibernation is an extreme example, but even species that do not hibernate often exhibit changes in behavior during the winter. It has been argued that SAD is an evolved adaptation in humans that is a variant or remnant of a hibernation response in some remote ancestor.[23] Presumably, food was scarce during most of human prehistory, and a tendency toward low mood during the winter months would have been adaptive by reducing the need for calorie intake. The preponderance of women with SAD suggests that the response may also somehow regulate reproduction.[23] If these interpretations are correct, SAD would not be a dysfunction or disorder, but rather a normal and expected response to seasonal changes.

From Wikipedia article on SAD. Click here for the rest

I thought I'd found a way of adapting to the adaptive process and still rake in some cash, then cancer hit in 2006; being breast cancer it can't ever, as yet, be considered cured, but in remission.  One just prays it's a long, lifelong even, remission.  So Goldenoldenlady took the figurative Gold Clock and retired. She can now be at one with nature and sleep six hours a night in summer and twice that in winter if she needs to, with the full and unresenting blessing of The Husband whose alarm goes off at 5.45am all year round, to enable him to trot off to earn Our Daily Crust. God love that man, I always shall.

But with belly pork needing a good nine hours' cooking time at plate-warming temperature (and dinner usually served at or before 7.00pm) I'll have to set the alarm for 8.00am tomorrow to prep it and get it going, even if I do it in my PJs with my eyes shut.  Then I may slide back betweern the covers once it's safely in the oven (you wage slaves might be clenching your teeth here, but - remember - you have to have SAD and have had cancer to qualify for my type of early retirement, and I am money poor as a result of it) to snooze away another couple of hours with The Dog curled up beside me.

Oh, I forgot to mention The Dog is a West Highland Terrier, a breed which emerged in the far North of Scotland, so of course he has it too... and contrast;

 A Spring Morning

An Autumn Morning

Monday, 11 October 2010

Damn Fine Coffee

There was a time in my life, Dear Reader, when I didn't use to drink coffee.  It was during the years 1981 to 1998.  Gosh! I hear you exclaim.  Goldenlady is very sure of her dates on that, which is strange, as "Went Off Coffee" isn't often marked down in a person's diary, followed by "I Find I Can Now Drink Coffee Again" a matter of weeks or years later.  So how can she know?

I will tell you how she knows.  Those are the years of her first marriage.

There were two things going against coffee in those years - the first was the stove-top espresso maker that had been scorched by overheating so often that the coffee always tasted faintly burnt.  Even getting a new one didn't help as within days it had happened again.  Stove-top espresso makers, gas cookers and being too easily distracted always conspired against the production of good coffee by that method. And yet somehow we were locked into always making it that way.  The First Husband stuck to his guns that this was how he liked it.  As he also, for much of our marriage, smoked Balkan Sobrani pipe tobacco I am guessing his tastebuds were pretty much shot.

Back in the early 1980s coffee wasn't the national obsession it is now; I decided to drink only tea and so we settled down to the daily habits of a marriage that was rarely more contented than an uneasy state of truce.

The second obstacle was it didn't seem to do me any good at all if and when I did drink it.  Occasionally I'd be offered coffee elsewhere, made some other way, and liked the taste.  But my tolerance to caffeine was so finely tuned that after a cup or two I'd be sitting on the edge of my seat, eyeing the door, and trying to remember what desperately urgent errand needed me to be elsewhere, now, that minute.  It happened so often at one particulary observant friend's house that it was she who realised that it was the coffee doing it.  It put me into a huge cortisol surge, an adrenaline spike that had me flickering like a faulty switch between fright, flight and fight.

It made us laugh once she worked out what was causing the reaction.  But it also made me think.  Was the coffee waking me up to the supressed feelings of high anxiety and stress I lived with constantly but had to ignore to survive?

Without much more by way of detail (as The First Husband is also the father of The Daughter, so at least some discretion must prevail) I can tell you that in 1997 I left him to his own very particular way of doing things and eventually, after some up-and-down weeks, took up residence in a tiny flat in the spring of 1998.  It was really more a glorified bedsit, but in its great favour was the fact it had a telephone, its own ensuite shower room and was but three minutes walk for The Daughter (who stayed where she was to do her A-Levels) to pop over and see her mother.

When I lived there I quickly developed a lasting liking of my own company.  I loved coming back from work and having no-one to serve or please but myself, no expectations from anyone of a making a decent meal for a minimum of three, no toppling ironing pile to tackle, no niggling, sniping or rowing, no visiting in-laws, no uncomfortable silences.  Just me.  My thoughts.  My (until then often neglected) needs.  I didn't have to justify any little purchases by way of clothes or new things for the house to anyone else. I was a girl of slender means, but my budget was my own. So gradually I furnished my minute little home with extras, and one day, on impulse, I bought a cafetiere. The same week I also bought a CD of Bach's French Suite No 5 in G major, BWV 816, played on the piano at a calm and even tempo. I can now sometimes make a brave stab at this first movement myself, but I can never approach even within a country mile the playing of the infant phenomenon in this clip

Child Wonder Breaks Adult Amateur Pianists' Hearts

Right there I sank the foundations for the pillars that held up the tabernacle for my Sunday morning ritual from then on.  Coffee and Bach became my day-of-rest serenity, my restorative oasis of calm during the two years it took to complete my divorce.

I found that now I lived alone I could drink even a one litre cafetiere of coffee without any of the old feelings of skin-crawling unease. I could drink it, and I could sit still.  I could think, relax, read the paper, or just listen and separate the intertwining skeins of Bach's counterpoint.  I was able to rest up from a week's work, and plan the next seven days, arranging them as far as possible to my liking. Coffee and I were friends again, companions of many sweet hours of doing nothing much in particular and lots of it.

That is a dozen years ago now.  My relationship with coffee has since become so intimate and abiding that we are daily, almost daylong, companions.  The cafetiere remained my favoured method of preparation until last month, when I spotted an electric espresso maker that - wondrously - I could actually afford.  It's a Krups XP4000, an ex-display model and end-of-line offer, for sale at a hugely knocked-down price. It had its box, but no warranty, one of the filters (forturately the much less useful single cup filter) was missing, and there were no instructions, but manuals are usually downloadable, so I snapped it up at £50 (down from £125).

For a month The Husband and I have been transfixed with delight at espressos with a genuine and inimitable caramel-coloured crema on them.  We've become part-time barristas, dab hands at lattes and a fairly decent cappucino.  We've taken to a shot of delicious darkness after dinner, lingering at the table and chatting in a desultory and unhurried way, our dining room holding for us both the charm of a favourite restaurant or a fondly remembered holiday hotel.

It's felt like a recaptured courtship. The Husband has said many times in the ensuing month that it's the best bit of kit he's ever had in the house.

This morning I tamped down the finely ground Lavazza into the filter and screwed the handle up tight.  I put one of the clear glass cups we now use (for the fun of it) underneath and waited for the twin streams of a double espresso to pour their deliciousness into it.   Nothing.  Nada.  Niente.

I unscrewed the handle, whereupon of steam and sprayed coffee grounds spurted out alarmingly in all directions as the pressure was released.  Dammit.  I cleaned up and tried again.  Exactly the same disastrous results. So I spent the next few minutes thoroughly cleaning the separate sections of the filter, and tested it again.  Everything sounded OK, the milk frother shot out an effective jet of steam, but (and this was almost heart-breaking) even when I then tried to run just water through the machine using an empty filter with no coffee in it still nothing came out.

Could it be that a month from bringing it home it was dead already?  Had we killed it, exhausted it with our enthusiasm?

I checked the manual we'd printed out for help, but in my rising panic couldn't seem to decipher any meaning from it.  I rang The Husband with a pathetic catch in my voice, meeping like a disconsolate toddler with a broken toy.  He said to switch it off and try not to worry, dust off the old cafetiere and he'd have a look when he got in.  But I couldn't let it lie.  With a sort of mesmerised masochism I read page after page of on-line reviews, finding several disgruntled customers complaining of messy leaks which needed new gasket seals (ours wasn't leaking, it was more witholding) and even more attesting to the machine packing up completely within a month or two.

Ayyeeeeee!  Not much of a bargain now, was it?  Not if it would take a costly repair or a bunch of spare parts to fix it after only a month's use.   

Feeling stupid with disappointment and more in desperation than hope I Googled "KRUPS XP 4000 troubleshooting".  It offered me up a question and answer page on a coffee enthusiasts' website.  I clicked and scanned down the page, to find some other benighted soul had posted that they had the same machine which was also producing nothing but weary and feeble bubbles from its nozzles.  A helpful - and cheap - hint from another poster was to run white vinegar through the machine twice, a cupful at a time, and this would probably break down any calcium deposits that might be blocking the flow of steam or coffee.  Crossing all available digits I did this.  Two foaming streams of boiling vinegar flowed forth, the acrid stench filling my nostrils and making me take a recoiling step backwards, but at least this was the first thing to come out of it all morning.  I did it again, for good luck putting extra vinegar directly into the filter.  Two even more promising jets of hot vinegar appeared.  It then remained to flush the system through with several rinses of plain water, and the machine could be tested to see if it could again produce some, by this time, very badly needed coffee.

It did.  It has.  I drank it, and savoured it so gratefully and appreciatively that I decided to type the paeon of praise to the restorative and inspiring virtues of coffee which you have just read. I will thankfully bring to its perfect cadence this little chamber rendition (imagine me singing the top line, if you will) of the Coffee Cantata

JS Bach Coffee Cantata (Excerpt)

which I hope has enjoyed some harmonising additional vocalisation from my readers.

I guess if you haven't shared my born-again enthusiasm for caffeine you will not appreciate today's blog.  But if you do, celebrate with me, please, and if you aren't far away pop over for a cup of damn fine coffee one day soon.

If you have a similar espresso machine that just stopped working properly one day (especially if, like us, you are in a hard water area) and it has been - perhaps unfairly - consigned to the back of a cupboard in disgrace ever since get it out again and give the vinegar descaling trick a go. If it works, allow your machine some counter space for a while, and some space in your day for drinking - and even more so, sharing - the best of what it can give.

Friday, 8 October 2010

I promised not to rant, but...

I got a Penalty Charge Notice yesterday, issued by the County Council where The Daughter lives, informing me that The Little Car which I own was improperly parked in the street where she lives on 4 September 2010. At 16.33.53, in case you're interested.

The document accusing my poor wee car of this infringement of the local resident parking regulations is dense with print, unnervingly heavy on black ink - in bold, in capitals - and full, lousy with, serial numbers and reference numbers. It is designed to strike terror into any tiny little car, and - if our cars could read - the engine would probably splutter and die, the wheels would seize up and the handbrake would jam on. This car is now afraid, very afraid, and it's going nowhere. It's not safe out there any more...

So it was up to me as the guardian of The Little Car, being in loco parentis, to gird my loins and defend it. I know my car. It keeps to the speed limit (well, no more than 5 mph above, just, maybe, occasionally) and stays on its own side of the road and it doesn't stop for a little kip just anywhere. It parks itself up neatly and correctly with Pay and Display ticket or Visitor's Permit and snuggles down in the marked bay for a well earned rest. It doesn't do things "improperly". What an unmitigated insult. Who is telling such shocking fibs about a tiny defenceless hatchback?

I began to investigate.

I checked the calendar for the day in question to ascertain if The Little Car was in that city at all that day. Yes. It had very kindly taken us to stay with The Daughter for the weekend and delivered us to the curb safely quite late in the afternoon on the Saturday in question. The details of the nasty rude document alleged it was then "improperly parked without a valid permit". My eye. When we'd pulled up at the house there was a warden prowling, so The Husband had stayed in the driving seat to comfort the car, which seemed to be trembling slightly even though the engine was off. It's the uniform, you see. Makes cars nervous.

The Daughter immediately prepared a scratch card parking permit to cover the time the car would be snoozing in the street and it was put on its dashboard while we unpacked our belongings and decanted The Dog from the back seat. All was well, all four people present were certain of that and prepared to challenge any aspersions it wasn't. But if all was tickety-boo how come the parking ticket? I demanded photographic evidence of the contravention and registered a curt and to-the-point representation "in the box provided". The Husband sent it back by guaranteed next-day delivery at some considerable expense (well, over a fiver, god dammit).

You know me, Dear Reader. I am too verbose to be able to express myself in a mere BOX, even if it was a biggish section of a sheet of A4. Words of high dudgeon were marshalling themselves to summersault to the defence of the maligned little car which serves us so well. It was personal, an affront to our vehicle, and at least £70 was at stake. In fact, by not coughing up straightaway but instead challenging the penalty charge, the horrid black capitals warned the dear wee car that someone would have to pay MORE if the appeal failed. Another 50%, bringing the amount to £105.

This threatened increase (if not paying within 28 days) was demanding money by menaces, an attempt to defraud, a psychological attack. Or so it felt. We were SURE no contravention had happened. Would we be so silly with a Civil Enforcement Officer's beady eye on us when we arrived (such are we required to call the universally loathed Traffic Warden these days)? I was brimming over with righteous indignation so I typed an e-mail. Quite a long one. OK, by most people's standards a really rather long one. Full of trenchantly expressed feeling and words like "exceedingly aggrieved". Well I was! Someone had dissed the family motor. Heads would roll. They would RUE the DAY. I finished with a flourish and pressed SEND.

I'd told The Daughter by this time. She messaged back - did you hang on to the permit, by any chance, perhaps stuff it in the glove compartment? It thought it was a long shot but I went to the car to look, giving it a comforting pat on its bonnet while I was about it. I fished about in its various storage nooks and crannies, even emptying the map pocket in the door of CDs and sweet wrappers. No go. Then I felt under the seat and pulled out a tied-up carrier bag of, presumably, rubbbish. With that excitement archeologists bubble over with when they unearth some "tremendously interesting" muddy shard of pot, I opened the bag and found the permit, for the right day, scrunched up and scruffy, yes, but absolutely the right permit! Whooping with triumph I dashed upstairs, scanned it and attached a copy of it to my NEXT, but much briefer, e-mail. "Take THAT!" I riposted to the car's invisible foe, and signed off with a suggestion the officer in question take a trip to the optician. Actually it was worse than that. I said "ophthalmologist", all spelt right with the PH and TH and everything. An attempt to intimidate by vocabulary. A weakness of mine, you will have noticed.

Oh dear. I had got a bit carried away. I should have been a smidgen more careful. Sitting with a celebratory glass of chilled white I re-read the e-mails and sat glowing with triumphant pride marvelling at the enlarged scan of the re-found permit. And read it a bit more closely.

My tired old heart sank to somewhere around about the place that used to be my waist when I had one. There was a mistake on the permit.

The visitor's permits in The Daughter's street are those scratch card types where the voucher has to be scrubbed away at carefully to reveal the DATE, MONTH, YEAR, HOUR and MINUTE (to the nearest 5) that the car was parked. We'd arrived at 3.45pm, so The Daughter had scratched out 15 for the hour and 45 for the minute. Trouble was, she'd chosen both numbers from the same box, the MINUTE box, and hadn't scratched out the 15 from the HOUR box. Was that IT? Was that the outrageous offence that was going to cost us £70 - no, correction, £105? Could that seriously be all it was?

I e-mailed again (don't groan so loudly, Dear Reader - what would YOU have done? Paid £70 by return with no questions asked?) saying I'd now noticed the tiny error but didn't believe that was all it took to be given a penalty of £70 <£105, and I would appeal up to tribunal level if it was. Oh, and offered a rueful comment about the "ophthalmologist" suggestion somewhat backfiring on us. Nervous laugh, apologetic stutter, press SEND.

Then I decided to let it rest for the evening; we had a guest for dinner, I was late getting going on the food (coq au vin a la creme, with braised onions, celery and leeks, if you're at all curious) and I'd rather eat that than any more humble pie.

It was a good dinner, and a lot of fun, but my mind was never more than roughly half on it, not really. The other half was on £105. What a really nice Christmas present that would have bought someone. How huge an amount it was for so small a mistake, a tiny and genuine error made under pressure as a warden paraded with sinister deliberation up and down the street punching numbers into his unfeelingly heartless, pedantic, pernickity little machine.

So, at what should have been bedtime, I went back to the pooter and started a little more research. I looked into the appeal procedure and tried to work out my defence. I checked all the grounds which usually succeeded, but no exact parallel with The Little Car's case seemed to exist. Then I punched "error on parking permit, appeal" into Google and found a discussion thread. Some libertarians of the driving world had got together to help motorists who felt unjustly accused defend themselves. And one contibutor was a solicitor, it seemed. This was what he had added only last month;

BH05920B The PCN was issued for parking in a resident’s permit space without displaying a valid permit. The appellant was a visitor. She obtained and displayed a visitor’s scratch-card voucher. This required her to scratch off the day of the week, date, month and year. She made a mistake with the date, scratching off 21 instead of 22; all the other details were correct. The council claimed that this error invalidated the voucher.

Held: This was the wrong approach. No contravention had occurred. The mistake was de minimis and did not invalidate the voucher. Given the combination of correct information given, the voucher could not have been used on any other day. While the adjudicator did not necessarily criticise the enforcement officer for issuing the PCN, the council should have appreciated that a minor and genuine error had occurred and cancelled it. Appeal allowed.


EUREKA! I had them by the short and curlies. I had a precedent in appellate law. I had case number and official report. I had the exact legal jargon to strike back. De Minimis. An error so inconsequential it had NOT invalidated the permit, as it was correct in respect of date, month and year, so could not be used on any other day.

Thank God for Google. An hour or two at the pooter and researching through its offerings had just saved the family £105. I felt, as I finally toddled off to bo-boes, that The Little Car would be supremely happy that it had been the use of a Search ENGINE that had saved the day.

It seems to me - yet again - that le most juste and justice have a deep common root somewhere. As is so often the case, it is the exact right word used in the exact right way which proves to be the most powerful weapon any of us can have in difficult times.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

The Dog Ate My Blog

Two days this week my blogging oath to post daily from Monday to Friday has been visibly trashed. I have lapsed.

I haven't typed a word to my flock; they turned up at the chapel of the holy blogdom in their suits and best hats, took their customary pews, sat obediently and reverently in silence and NOTHING issued from the pulpit. Their disappointment is palpable. They are wandering aimlessly, directionless, rudderless and leaderless. All for the lack of The Word. Or some words. Something. Anything. Please.

Or, to stretch out another analogy, the audience showed up at the comedy club, bought a drink at the bar, settled at their tables for a good hour or two's guffawing and the stand-up stood there and said nothing. Didn't even bate a barracker. Took up precious room and time in the spotlight and uttered not a word. Not a pun, not a gag nor a single quip. Then walked off.

Goldenoldenlady has left the building.

Well, SHE'S useless, her handful of loyal followers think, and click that option at the top of the page that says NEXT BLOG. To trawl though the pages of mid-western christian housewives who thank god for everything including their parking space at the mall. Or the grad students at colleges all over the US who still have that shiny-eyed, wet-behind-the-ears conviction that one day they will be published. Flick through blog after blog for something they can believe in and hold close to their hearts, some new voice that resonates through their being, some sense of fellowship that bears any resemblance to that which they believed they had found when first they chose to follow Goldenoldenlady.

All eight of them, including Goldenoldenlady herself, are just so many Lost Sheep.

Oh yes, I follow my own blog (I had to check the system worked) and I have logged on. And looked at the thing to click on that says NEW BLOG. But found it has started to hold that incapacitating malign influence over me that a blank sheet of A4 used to have when there was an essay due in next day (oh yes, she is SO old that word processors were an unimaginable luxury when she was a student, even amongst the lecturers). I have to fill the aching space and I haven't even got a title ("Browning's poetry is a blah di blah di blah blah of dum di flim flam. Discuss") to stare at until something gives.

So I beg you to pity me, Dear Readers. She who hates chores and started this blog to while away time and avoid them has turned the writing itself into a chore. An obligation. A responsibility. She has an avoidant streak in her personality as wide as a Parisian boulevard, so plain to see it's like the white line that runs along a badger's back, the shameful sign of funk. Of the sciver. You have found me out to be all I said I was when I started to write this. A procrastinator, a taker of un-earned days off, a blagger, a ligger and a let-down.

I have been weighed in the balance of bloggers and found wanting. Several ounces short of being truly wedded to my craft as a typer of inconsequential tripe. In my (very weak) defence I will admit I had got a bit discouraged at the 0 Comments, the lack of an amen to my sermon, the titter at the close of a gag. The silence of an audience sitting on its hands had got to me a bit, so I mooched off to find something more immediately rewarding to do.

If you were the old school friend of The Daughter who's in pod to a New Year baby you might be pleased I'd stopped faffing about at the pooter for a while, pretending anything I typed had any relevance to any bugger else. Because I am seven exquisite squares of heather-hued crocheted yarns towards a baby blanket, a dainty cot coverlet, for the First Born Infant.

If instead you are one of the seven followers that isn't Goldenoldenlady her narcissistic self, give me A Sign, Dear Reader. A sign that you have read, and care and looked for me and missed me whilst I was away. If it's not too much trouble.

Injured sniff. Slight jutting of bottom lip. Exit stage left scuffing toe of shoe.