Sunday, October 18, 2020

My Week in...Sounds

 Do you know, I am quite enjoying doing these My Week In...posts. They require me to stop, think back, highlight things that have been nice about the previous 7 days. This week is no different. 

And it has been a bit of a week. Multiple reasons why but I have plenty to look forward to in the coming days, so I'm not going to focus on what's been. Instead, here are my top 7 sounds, pop pickers:

The Irish woman at the pub coming out into the garden and shouting "Ahh JAYZUS!" before running back in to fetch the pints we'd ordered 10 minutes previously. 

The question "would you like dauphinoise pototoes?" from the waiter. The answer is "always".

The merry ding of a WhatsApp message from a friend saying "let's meet up next week. You free?" Yes. 

The crunch of autumn leaves under my feet as I walk home. 

N saying "I like that dress" as I get in from work. 

Samin Nosrat's laugh on the latest episode of her podcast. Can you tell I'm slightly in love with this woman and want her to be my friend?

The comforting whirr of the central heating. Hey, wood fires may be nice but they don't have timers to make sure the bathroom is toasty in the morning. 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Invisible Sharks

The other day I lowered myself into the pool for one of my weekly swims, ready to enjoy the warm water, the solitude, the movement without pain from my feet etc etc, when I realised realised that most of the pool lights were switched off. No one else was around and it was quite dark in there. This was a little eerie, to say the least but it takes more than eerie to put me off, so undaunted (nothing gets between me and my swim...apart from my own laziness), I took another step down the ladder and...

froze. Literally. 

Something awful had happened. Something catastrophic. Something that caused me to inch my way into the water muttering out loud, "Holy Mary Mother of God, Jesus and all his blessed Saints" like Mrs. Doyle falling down the stairs (yep, I'm working that 2% Irish DNA in my system until I get a damn passport). A scene which, by the way, is completely overshadowed by the "So you're a racist now Father" spiel from the same episode* - also brilliant but not the comic masterpiece of a middle-aged Irish housekeeper falling down a flight of stairs while reciting the above. 

I digress. 

Anyway, what had brought this on, you ask? Well, the water was FREEZING. Like a good 10 degrees colder than it had been yesterday and there'd been no warning from the girl on reception, no cheery "brace yourself!" as I walked past her. It was like stepping down into the North Sea in February.

So what to do? Get out or stay in? Get out, get warm, get to work early? Stay in, stay with the schedule, stay active?

Reader, chump that I am, I stayed in. 

I stayed and I swam the hell out of that pool. Desperate not to turn blue, catch pneumonia or go to work early, I stayed in that water and I swam. Cut my usual 14 strokes per length (it's a small pool okay?) down to 10 and swam like it was the only way to ever be warm again. I swam that mother-fucking pool and felt like a champ. 

Until I paused (for breath) and looked back. 

The only person in there was me. The lack of light made the water looked a darker blue than usual. It also looked a bit choppy because of aforementioned activity. It was still cold and far over I could see a weird shape in the water.** It looked like it might be moving, but of course, that was just the movement of the water.

Before I really had time to get my rationality back on track, they were back and populating the pool. The Invisible Sharks. These had been my secret phobia when I was a kid: scared of sharks and convinced that no matter how inland the pool, how chlorinated the water, or how populated with people, there were Invisible Sharks in there and they were looking for small scared kids who splashed too much and didn't swim so good. 

Suddenly I am 6 years old again. 6 years old in a rainbow striped swimsuit. Not a strong swimmer and not confident enough to stand up against the swimming instructor who can't understand why I'm having trouble. At the far end, the bigger kids are diving for black bricks thrown into the water for them to retrieve and I cannot for the life of me imagine why they would willingly do that, what if there are sharks in there? Obviously there aren't because I can't see any but What If They Are Invisible? 

God only knows what I'd been reading to invent invisible, chlorine-loving sharks. I hadn't watched Jaws (and no, I still haven't). I hadn't been taken on holiday anywhere sharks lived. I hadn't got a relative with a nasty shark-related injury. But there they were, all of a sudden, and you could only see them if you stared hard enough at the way the water moved in the pool. 

It took years to forget them.

I became an adult, I swam in shallow waters, sometimes in the sea but mostly in pools. I insisted on being able to see the bottom of whatever it was I was swimming in. I forgot the sharks but they hadn't forgotten me. 

Of course, now I am an adult and Above Such Childish Things so I gave myself, and the sharks, a stern talking to, took a breath and started swimming again. Carefully, so I didn't disturb the water too much. God only knows what I must have looked like, a middle aged woman staring down in the water while head is held resolutely above, fists clenched, making my front crawl very unwieldy as well as incredibly slow. 

5 more lengths and it was time for me to get out and head to work***. The sharks stayed away and I emerged intact and triumphant. Stuck my tongue out at them as I left. The hot water in the shower afterwards has never felt so good. 


*Wikipedia link to the episode if your fancy is to have all the humour sucked out of it
**turned out to be a differently coloured tile I'd never noticed before, but still
***I've since swum 4 more times, so I'm completely over this phobia and not at all crazy.  

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

My Week in...Smells

 My annual leave came to an end yesterday and I'm feeling much rested, ready to get back to it and more determined to bring balance to my life. A rut of work, home, eating off lap, bed had developed and this is obviously no good for anyone. The challenge is how to get out of it. Slowly slowly, catchee...betterness?

I'm still a work in progress on this. Aren't we all?

In the meantime, here is last week in odours (oh, now there's an unpleasant word):

The slight rubber whiff of my yoga mat as I unrolled it for the first time in months and actually managed to complete 4 daily sessions. I have missed my yoga. I've especially missed the way it left me able to get up off the sofa without groaning and able to put my tights on, standing on one leg, without falling over. 

A roast dinner at my folks: pork, potatoes, veg and a rich rich gravy. 

The comforting aroma of slowly caramalizing onions and garlic for a pasta sauce. 

Paint. I painted parts of the house while I was off work, including a deep blue wall in the retreat, which I shall sprinkle with hand-painted constellations. I confess willingly to loving the smell of a freshly painted wall. 

Woodsmoke. Bonfires are allowed once more on the allotment site. I haven't had one myself but I am enjoying smelling other's when I go up there. 

Leaf mould. Leaves are falling and coupled with the rain last week, there is the faintest whiff of rotting leaves along the tow path. It's so very evocative of this time of year. 

Mango juice. I treated myself to a ripe mango and the smell was a short blast of summer for a while after I'd gobbled it all up.

Image by...I forget, sorry. Not me anyway, but perfectly encapsulating
how I felt when my umbrella blew inside out last week... 

Monday, October 5, 2020

September Reading


I must confess that I spent the first week or so of September staring at the books I’d started but not finished with some trepidation. Not because the contents were scary (apart from Invisible Women but I’ll come onto that) but because I was scared I might find that my inability to read had increased. 

What if I opened the pages and couldn’t manage more than a chapter? What if I couldn’t read more than a sentence? What if I couldn’t make sense of the words at all. 

My brain likes catastrophising. 

Anyway, it was Marian Keyes who broke the spell. I’m not a huge fan of her fiction but admire her talent anyway, and her non-fiction is always funny and warm. I want to be wrapped in the midst of her family, absorbing their tales with all of my ears. These slight essays and journal entries were a blast of fresh air to my dull and stultified brain. 

Then I turned to Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl Woman Other. This had been on my shelf for ages and I’d been worried about cracking the front page open. Partly because of hype and my long history of not actually enjoying Booker prize winners, and partly because I was worried this would be another Queenie, which I hated (I’m sorry I’m sorry but I just couldn’t). 

Anyway, I was wrong on both counts, and how. This was funny and joyful and a delight. A cast of women telling their truths, living their lives with honesty and pleasure. A medley of experiences and personalities, a jigsaw of characters that all knit together to form a picture of glorious womanhood. And JOY! 

"when Yazz talks about her unusual upbringing to people, the unwordly ones expect her to be emotionally damaged from it, like how can you not be when your mum's a polyamorous lesbian and your father's a gay narcissist (as she describes him), and you were shunted between both their homes and dumped with various godparents while your parents pursued their careers?
this annoys Yazz who can't stand people saying anything negative about her parents
that's her perogative"

A friend and I went to see the play of Sarah Walters The Night Watch a year or so ago and, oh boy, the gloom. Lesbians are not allowed to be happy in fiction, it seems. Every single one was tortured and miserable, suffering in various melodramatic ways, martyred by their passions, suffering in a terribly, terribly British way. 

It was so melodramatic, it was funny, but it still left a bitter taste in the mouth. 

"she still straightens and dyes her hair, currently an unseemly grey at the roots, pulled back from a face that's gone slack except for a mouth that holds all her misery like a drawstring tightened around a pouch."

But. But Girl Woman Other has no time for this kind of nonsense. Joy comes off every page, is in every page. The message is that these are just women, doing their thing, being themselves, not suffering agonies for it. And I bloody LOVED it. 

If you’ve avoided it so far, don’t put it off any longer, it’s the ideal tonic for these times. 

And now I’ve blathered on for long enough. Criado Perez’s Invisible Woman needs a post of its own really. So diligently researched and a complete eye opener as to how women are overlooked in everything from seatbelt design to heart attack diagnosis, from mobile phone design to development of drugs actually meant to help us. It made me angry but I don’t want to end this post on that sort of note, so here’s a favourite passage from one of my favourite books of the year: 

"Roland decided long ago to align himself with L'Etablissement, which is why he's a winer and a household name
among the educated classes
where it counts
Amma, on the other hand, has waited three decades before being allowed in through the front door. 
although she hasn't exactly been hammering on the castle walls for the duration
in truth, girlfriend spent much of her early career slinging rocks at it"

Friday, October 2, 2020

Slowing it Down

 Today is the start of my very favourite month and with it, I can feel the very bones of me start to relax and my brain take a sigh of relief. October brings cooler nights, my cloud-like duvet, the click and whir of the heating in the mornings, stews and soups, nesting and resettling. I find summer quite unsettling with its exposed flesh, eyes squinting against the sun, chafing and sweating. Hurrah for October where the sun still shines but the temperature is cool. I adore it. 

This week has been a week off for me and N, although he did have to work on Tuesday morning (endless Zoom!), so I grabbed the chance to catch up with a friend I haven't seen for over a year. We headed to this arboretum, which has the national collection of acers and Japanese maples, both trees I love, and we caught up on all the changes.

The last time we had seen each other, N & I were separated (long story), I still rented in the House of Inconvenience and the Kid lived with me. On her side, her daughter was about to get married and her long-term partner was seriously ill. Laurie was a wonderful, gentle, charming man, full of old-school manners, a passion for theatre and horse racing, and I adored him.

 He was full of stories of a life lived to its very corners. Always open to new experiences and ways of thinking. You could sit down and have a long chat about the new Hockney works of art and end up discussing who would win in the 3.15 at Cheltenham, via diversions into who played the best Hamlet (David Tennant - which we'd actually all seen together - and Andrew Scott, in case you're wondering), the best type of soil to plant brassicas in and his experience as an evacuee. 

He was the least judgemental person I have ever met. 

So we walked and talked about everything under the sun, but especially about Laurie and how the lockdown has given my friend a chance to mourn him fully, without distractions and with a tenderness I hope I evoke when I die. We parted with full hearts, bellies (thank you marmalade and poppy seed cake) and, in my case, a Japanese hornbeam for the garden. Purchased at the garden centre, not just dug up and lifted off site. I haven't yet reached my Nan's level of pinching off cuttings in gardens and carrying them home in a box of wet kitchen paper, but I fear it won't be long. And even she drew the line at digging entire plants up. 

That one expedition aside, we've done very little this week and gratefully so. N cleared out the horror-show that was the shed and rearranged it so I can now get to my bike without having to step over 5 bags of different compost, shift rakes and spades to one side and then disentangle it from the hose. Pots are neatly stacked in size order and the tools form an orderly row at the end. I went in and spun round for the sheer novelty of being able to do that without being impaled on a garden cane. 

Today we were supposed to be heading to Ikea but have made the decision not to. Crowds still make me panic at the moment, add into that masks and the standard Ikea-chaos, and it was just asking for trouble. So we're going to order what we want instead and spend the rest of the day pottering around the house. 

Pottering is very much the word of the week: I've painted a wall in my retreat room a dark blue which I shall sprinkle with hand-painted constellations; my sister, her daughter and my mum all came over for coffee and cake one afternoon, we took in an exhibition of drawings and etchings at the local gallery, we've visited the allotment, I made apple muffins which are absolutely perfect for this time of year and had my first CBT therapy session, which interesting. 

We're watching Us, the Simpsons, Bake Off, Ghosts and football (well, N is, I'm reading on the sofa and making the right noises). I'm reading again and sink into a book every morning with a sigh of pleasure. We're eating foods that bring pleasure and drinking a red wine that demands respect. We're shifting furniture around and making cosy for the coming months. 

The kitten, Mabel, is now nearly 4 months old and a long, lean kitten she is now. My morning ritual goes something like this: get up, make tea, feed her, feed Big-Cat-Thor and let him out just before she pounces him, trying to get him to play, take her back upstairs with me, into the retreat. There, once she's settled down after checking my toes are still not something she can eat, gnawing on my book/phone to see if they are edible, sniffing the plants to check they haven't become tasty overnight and knocking any pens or hairclips off the dressing table onto the floor, she settles around my neck, purring like a tiny earthquake, for a snooze while I read. As she's still housebound for another 6 weeks at least, her fur is incredibly soft: it's like wearing a silken thermal scarf. 

The only dark spot on her otherwise light and playful presence, is her behaviour with B-C-T. To be fair, he is a grumpy old so and so: although he's only 5, he seems to have embraced a middle-age more suited to a Dad in a 1950s sitcom. If he could smoke a pipe, wear slippers and read the Telegraph, I'm pretty sure he would. However, Mabel is more of a freewheeling, playful, hippy spirit, what's yours is mine, hooray for today, kind of personality, coupled with a wilfulness that all toddlers exhibit. Her favourite thing is to sit on the arm of a chair until he passes underneath, whereupon she leaps, all 4 legs spreadeagled, onto his back, causing him to race around, growling and spitting, with her clinging on like a rodeo girl. Once he manages to shake her, there are a few minutes of feverish fighting before he manages to break free and make an escape. 

We're hoping time and neutering will calm her down with him, but if you have any tips, let me know. Heaven knows, I can't be supervising their behaviours all the time. 

This evening, I'm off to a friend's house for dinner. We scored a perfect Bunty hit in a charity shop a few weeks ago, spotting 10, original, 1960-70s Bunty's in damn good condition for £3, so tonight we'll sort through them, eat roast chicken, drink some wine and indulge in a good old gossip. We are both full of plans for things we'd like to start up, including a local group for peri, full and post menopausal women in the area. She is just post and I, with my hysterectomy planned for next year, will be thrown full on into it before too long. Until the question of the hysterectomy came up, I hadn't given my fertility another thought: I'd had the Kid and was happy at that. Once it did though, I found myself questioning absolutely everything about myself, the very fundamental core of myself and feeling almost bereaved. It was very odd. 

Anyway, a leaflet entitled "So, You're Past It" or "What is the Point of You Now?" handed out by doctors doesn't really cut it in the information/support stakes, so we're thinking of setting up our own. And a podcast where she demonstrates her considerable knowledge of history and I play the one who says "ooooh, really?" a lot. And and and. 

So many plans, so little time. Or rather, given that a growing time obsession was one of my "I think I'm going mad" triggers, enough time. If you really want to do something and its the right fit for you, it'll happen. Breathe, look at the trees, take it slow. 

Thursday, October 1, 2020

My Week in...Sights

 My boy and his boyfriend, seen for the first time since mid-July. Both hale and hearty, despite their roles as carers, both full of news and both a relief to a worried mother's nerves. 

The note in my diary that says "annual leave" scrawled all across this week. 

Yellowing, crisping leaves and shiny conkers on the canal towpath. 

Bake Off is back! Oh, to settle into the sofa, under a blanket with a slice of cake I haven't baked and watch this. A gentle muffin of joy with Matt Lucas being a genuinely funny addition to the team. 

The beautiful Irish-grass-after-the-rain green of the soft new wool I purchased with the intention of making myself a cowl for late Autumn. Or snood, if you prefer, which I do because it's satisfying to say. 

Trees! So many trees, including beautiful acers and maples throwing out their purples and auburns with all the sass of a tree that knows it looks good. Also, the friend I haven't seen for over a year as we wandered around an arboretum. 

2 extremely tall, extremely yellow sunflowers smiling at me from a 4th floor  balcony 

Weather Advisory Service

On the way home from the train the other day, I took a shortcut through the dripping allotment grounds, the grass and earth squelching under...