Thursday, 28 October 2010
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
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
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
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
Wednesday, 13 October 2010
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
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. 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. 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...
Monday, 11 October 2010
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
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.
TPT case from THE JOINT REPORT OF THE PARKING ADJUDICATORS FOR ENGLAND AND WALES APRIL 2008 TO MARCH 2009
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
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.
Monday, 4 October 2010
As I have already complained on Facebook "[Goldenoldenlady] wonders what she is going to DO with herself for the next five or six months? Can't afford any Winter Sun elsewhere, so it's candles instead of sandals, gas fire replaces garden umbrella, and knitting rather than gardening. A poor exchange in every case".
Let me look at a few of those things in a little more detail, starting with Strictly. This household isn't an X-Factory, although I have caught The Lodger catching up on ITV2 re-runs as he works a lot of Saturday evenings in his low-paying, slave-driving gastro-pub. Now he's got the TV reception to his own room sorted (this entailed much moving of furniture and supportive advice on tweaking from The Husband) he has a working set-top box and can watch deluded amateur "singers" and Liverpool lose to his heart's content. Leaving us unimpeded access to the Big Telly.
The Husband and I favour the BBC light entertainment offering, having spent almost a year ourselves learning to salsa during our engagement so we could do a proper holding-one-another first dance with choreographed steps, dips and turns. It's quite strenuous, Latin dancing. I lost a stone in weight and got an arthritic left knee in the process, so it was win-some lose-some activity for me. But it has given us both an insight into how very much there is to learn when learning to dance, so we appreciate a nice turn around the floor when we see one. The Husband also likes predicting the scores, and he's jolly good at it.
So now to central heating, a vexatious issue when one of the people living in the house already has her own built in. I decide some gentle background heat would be good, and we seem to achieve it quite well, and then we eat something. As soon as carbohydrates in particular are ingested I pump out so many calories in body heat I am flinging off cardigans, reaching for window catches and turning off radiators until I feel that I can once again breathe comfortably. Which makes me cheap to run, in household bill terms, but a difficult companion for anyone apart from a sand lizard or another menopausal woman. Thankfully The Husband can stand to be on the cool side, being one of nature's hot water bottles, but apologies in advance to anyone with higher-set internal thermostat who may visit us in the months to come.
Where am I up to? Ah yes. LIGHTS. I placed on record last week my intention that this blog be characterised by jollity and levity, but it's so hard to be light-hearted when everywhere else is relentlessly gloomy. I don't like to blunder around in semi-darkness all day, feeling hemmed in and oppressed by the grey cloud above us, so I use our full range of ambient, mood and task lighting and then even supplement this level of illumination with strategic candles and strings of fairy lights draped around mirrors and pictures. If I had a crystal chandelier I'd be the happiest woman in blogdom, but I have had to concede it would be really, really silly in an ex-council house with eight foot ceilings. For a chandelier one needs loftiness, expansive reception rooms with sculpted plaster cornices, picture rails and tall gold-framed mirrors to echo back the sparkle. A small ballroom in a pretty damned decent Victorian pile comes to mind. Which in our case we have not got.
I started this blog with the title today, so I'd better expand on that too. Mulled wine comes on stream in most supermarkets in good time for hallowe'en and bonfire night (being a Lancastrian, you won't catch me calling the Fifth of November Guy Fawkes' Night - we have always the sensibilities of all our recusant neighbours to consider in Lancashire, so the anti-catholic nature of the celebration is gracefully fudge over. Lewes could listen and learn a thing or two there) and it is comfortingly warming and spicy and equally comfortingly cheap even next to other plonks. I decant the bottle into a glass jug and microwave for a minute or two. Serve with mixed nuts and dried fruit and drink curled up on the sofa watching the News and (increasingly bbbrrrrr) Weather Forecast.
Which brings me to knitting. Last year it was crochet to the tune of an entire granny blanket of enticingly multi-hued squares, and quite a few cushion-covers. This year I haven't alighted upon a major project yet, although some baby clothes are called for now The Daughter's old school pals are in reproductive mode. And a friend has just asked me to teach her to Stitch and Bitch - her first tuition session starts at 7.00pm this evening. I am already couple of feet into a zigzag striped scarf made of odds and sods left over from the granny blanket. I can't just watch TV. It's not quite good enough, is it? It burbles away in the corner and I glance up if the dialogue or commentary seems particularly excitable. I find that quite enough, usually. Some people suggest "why not just listening to the radio, then?" but The Dog prefers the TV. The Husband prefers World of Warcraft over either, and is usually elsewhere killing orks.
Lastly, Bonnets and Bodices aka period drama. I am persevering with Down-whatever-it-is Abbey, but I think Dame Maggie Smith is sadly under-utilised. She hasn't anywhere near enough lines and only one facial expression is called for, a kind of bug-eyed sneer, so I think she's doing it for the Pension Fund, myself. I caught an old Upstairs Downstairs on ITV3 this afternoon. Gosh, weren't the sets TINY! By my rule-of-thumb not even big enough for a decent chandelier and the master of the house supposed to be a titled MP. So seeing Highclere inside and out is a bit more like it, even though the scripts clunk from one predictable scene to another. It's comforting, isn't it, though? Like mulled wine, knitting and candlelight the first costume drama of the autumn sets the mood for the winter to come.
It’s the televisual equivalent of digging out a favourite winter coat and finding it's not too old-fashioned to do another year. One slips into and sighs with that mixture of regret and relief which comes from not having to change a well-tested formula or make a major wardrobe investment.
Friday, 1 October 2010
What did we talk about? I have hardly any idea. The topics and subjects changed so quickly, so randomly that I don't seem to have stored hardly any of it away. I can remember we both expressed astonishment at the impossible-to-credit (or PAY!) prices of new clothes in high street stores at the beginning of the season when there are no reductions. We are both inveterate charity shoppers and sale rack rummagers. I know that at lunch itself she expressed her delight with chilled pre-cooked mussels (4 mins in the microwave, stir half way through) in white wine sauce and made a mental note to treat herself to a pack occasionally. And, as she put her coat onto leave, I promised her a SEBO vacuum cleaner for their wedding present if/when she and her chap ever get married. This was the beginning, middle and end of what we talked about. There were gazillions of little things in between but they passed in such a blur of animated chatter I can't for the life of me recall the details.
I do know that in three hours of talk we had not a word of disagreement. Is this why I can't remember? Because there were no jarring conflicts or any embarrassed silences which would have followed them, had there been any? And if so, how did we manage it? Were we being very, very careful? No, not particularly. Were we being drearily bland and anodyne? No. God forfend. We didn't - as far as I can recall - stick to any topics for long, let alone "safe"ones. The talk flew as freely as a bird on the wing. A bird who knows where all the neighbourhood cats snooze and prowl, that is.
We reached a point of broad agreement a little time ago The Daughter and her Old Ma. It's a good feeling, now we are here, but to get this point, BOY! have we trodden on one another's sore toes with too swift or unthinking comments or overly harsh assessments of one another's failings. From adolescence until quite recently our time together, although mostly jolly good fun, has been punctuated by some humdingers of back-and-forth spats and skermishes. Angry and uncomprehending exchanges, misunderstandings, reactions and recoilings. But - and this is a HUGE "but" - we are both at heart the type of person who hates hurting the ones we love. So we have found out the subtle and unique sensitivities that characterise the other and we choose to, we endeavour to, and we mostly now succeed in "not going there...".
It's like a pleasant day's journey in summer with no road map but memory, a happy conversation between friends and intimates. The outset and the destination might always be the same, but the route taken, the lanes followed, the watering places called in at, can differ in some way every time. There's never any need for it to be boring. But one knows enough of the lie of the land between START and STOP to avoid the accident blacks spots, the bottle necks, that particulary ugly 1960s town centre with the hugely annoying one-way system.
We can always seem to trouble to do it when we drive from A to B. So - if we can be bothered - we can also do it between Hello and See You Again Soon, I reckon. I've always hoped so, and now I find we can, The Daughter and her Old Ma. Just as The Husband and I mostly achieve.
Now I just have manage to do the same with all the other buggers...