Everyday was groundhog day. Until yesterday. Last night OH (other half) and I received our Pfizer vaccine!
We’d had a phone call the night before from someone at our medical practice asking us if we wanted to be vaccinated. In all honesty I thought it might be a hoax as we weren’t expecting to get a call so soon. We know a number of people older than us who still haven’t had the vaccine so we were somewhat sceptical.
We were fortunate because, as it was being done at our local practice, we were able to walk there. We were glad we did because there was a long line up of cars waiting to get in. Our appointment was for 6.20pm and we arrived about half an hour early. Just as well because there was a long queue.
We joined a long socially distanced line up of masked people. Someone came along, took one’s details and handed out a form to be completed. Not easy in semi darkness but we managed. When I attempted to return the pen I was told to keep it. Our temperatures were taken before we went inside the building.
The large reception area inside had been divided up into cubicles where people were being given the vaccine. OH was ushered into one of these while I was told to enter one of the practice rooms. I rolled up my sleeve and the volunteer sang out – “one, two, three” – before giving me the jab.
There was almost a party atmosphere. Everyone was smiling, kindly and friendly. All these OAPs, or seniors as we prefer to be called, were sitting in the corridor, all masked and distanced from one another. Volunteers wandered up and down checking that we were OK and spraying vacated seats with antiseptic. OH came over with one of our favourite GPs who had long retired but had returned to give jabs. He told us he had done over 100 that day. We reckoned that there were at least ten people there giving innoculations so that would be 1000 over 70s getting their vaccine that day.
We were also given a little card. It had no stars or smiley faces but it named the vaccine we had been given – Pfizer – and the date. Something to stick on our passports for the future.
That was over 24 hours ago. We have had no side effects, other than our arms feeling a little tender at the site of the jab. The only downside is that we shouldn’t drink alcohol for two weeks as that would reduce our immunity. A small price to pay.
One can criticise this government for many things but at least they had the foresight to order ample quantities of vaccine. We are well ahead of our European neighbours and most other countries of the world in rolling out the vaccination programme. So, at least in one thing at least, Britain has got something right.
We all need to be patient and play by the rules. But there is light – and real hope – at the end of the tunnel.
Way back in April 2020 at the start of all of this, most of us thought that by now life would have gone back to normal.
At that time people generally were respecting the lockdown. Life, as we knew it, had stopped except for the birds who were singing louder than ever. Or so it seemed at the time. But that was probably because there were no planes, traffic or pollution and nature was in its element. Spring was followed by one of the hottest summers on record. And, even though we were in lockdown, there was a pleasure in the natural things around us and those of us with gardens or parks nearby could enjoy them.
Walking round the block for our hour of exercise (as it was then) an idea for a poem came into my head – a parody of the famous speech of Henry V by William Shakespeare. Once more unto the breach dear friends. Those of you who have been following my blog since the start of lockdown might remember the poem I wrote at the time.
The Hour of Exercise
Once more around the block
Dear friends once more
And do our bit
For all the English dead
In solitude there’s nothing that becomes a man
Or woman for that matter
As modest stillness and humility
And when the invisible enemy does appear
Self distancing is the thing
We must embrace
And when those joggers come along
Beating their path along the route
Hold hard the breath and turn your back
Or better still
Cross over the road
Because they will not be moved
But jog on and on
for they are mean and base
Or merely antisocial
Unlike us stronger mortals
Who are in quarantine
We will self isolate for Boris
in England’s green and pleasant land.
On Sunday, nine months later, OH (other half) and I were taking a walk around the block and the same line of Shakespeare popped into my head. It was only after I wrote the poem below that I remembered I had used the same device of parodying Shakespeare last April. If you compare the two poems, you will see that there is a real contrast between my thoughts and feelings at the start of lockdown and how I – and many others I am sure – feel now. Do comment below and let me know what you think!
Once more around the block dear friends once more
Or close the hospitals with our Covid dead
This virus does not care about us man
It thrives on selfishness and stupidity
And when the joggers breath blows in our faces
Then cover up your nose and mouth
Hold hard the breath until they have passed by
And you good politicians
Who serve for us in England
Show us here the mettle of your thinking
Why we should ever vote for you again
Let us know that you are worthy of the job
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That would let the British people down
Follow your instincts
Be proactive, don’t react
With science at the forefront
Swear we will beat this virus!
Thank you for reading my blog. Keep safe and stay well.
Something some of us have discovered as a result this lockdown is the fun of getting deliveries. Not just food deliveries but everything deliveries.
I am someone who has never enjoyed shopping in stores but I have really taken to buying stuff online.
We’ve all made jokes about people being dressed only from the waist up when they address us on Zoom – whether it’s on TV or among one’s own friendship circle. After all, aside from something respectable to cover you from neck to chest, who needs clothes during lockdown ?
At the moment one really only needs clothes for pottering around the house and the occasional Zoom appearance. OH (other half) and I find ourselves getting dressed later every day and changing back into our nightclothes much earlier each evening. Sometimes it seems hardly worth getting dressed at all!
We have been buying what I can only term as ‘comfort clothes’ and what the websites describe as “loungewear”. For example, a new velour jogging suit for me (though I will be lounging in it in front of the TV rather than jogging) and a new pair of slippers for OH.
I have also invested in a pair of cheerful tartan pyjamas and a cosy fleecy top. OH saw the fleece and desired something similar. I’ve managed to track one down for him too. Matchy matchy as our four year old granddaughter would say.
One also needs outdoor clothes for all those walks we are legally entitled to enjoy. I treated myself to a Cossack type fur hat. It looks incredibly decadent and stylish even though it is fake fur.
These all arrive with a knock on the door and a quick scurry away by whomsoever is making the delivery.
No more do we put parcels in quarantine. We open them up excitedly, throw away the wrappings and then – of course – wash our hands.
Even though we know what’s going to be in the parcel we greet each one as if it is a long awaited gift.
I am reminded of a wonderful children’s story our three children all enjoyed in the past. “Benjamin’s 365 Birthdays”, written by Judi Barrett and illustrated by Ron Barrett.
Benjamin Bear loved opening birthday presents and was very sad once he had opened all of them. So he wrapped them up again and every day gave himself a new present. When he ran out of presents he found other things to wrap and unwrap, eventually wrapping up his whole house – roof and all.
That’s how OH and I feel when we hear that knock on the door and find a parcel awaiting us on the front step. Never mind that we know exactly what’s in it – there is still that stirring of excitement one felt as a child opening a present!
Like Lockdown, it is the gift that keeps on giving.
"When shall we three meet again,
in thunder, lightning, or in rain?
When the hurley-burley's done,
when the battle's lost and won ...
we'll double, double, toil and trouble,
and make our hell broth boil and bubble!"
A recent task in our writers’ group (watfordwriters.org for those of you who would like to explore our excellent web site) was to write a ten minute panto. We then had to perform it on Zoom.
You are being spared my performance as Fairy Vaccine and OH’s (other half) playing the two leading parts but I thought you would like to read the panto script – seeing as it’s Christmas. And, at Christmas, as we all know, one’s critical faculties disappear and most people are willing to read/watch/eat anything!
So here it is. The smarter ones among you might spot a resemblance with the virus in my panto and the behaviour of the current incumbent in the White House. I couldn’t possibly comment.
BORIS AND THE BAD VIRUS
CAST: Boris Johnson as himself – always behind a lectern.
FAIRY VACCINE. She is all sparkly and carries a fairy wand.
VIRUS – THE VILLIAN. Looks like Boris Trump but has virus-like spikes sticking out all over its body. He has an orange face, orange spikey hair and orange hands.
THE SCENE OPENS ON BORIS STANDING BEHIND HIS LECTERN.
Bubble bubble tiers and trouble
Help me – I’m in such a muddle!
A PUFF OF SMOKE AND FAIRY VACCINE APPEARS WAVING HER SPARKLY WAND.
FAIRY VACCINE: Did you call for your fairy queen?
My name dear Boris is Fairy Vaccine!
I’m as pretty as Carly Cyrus
I’ll rid you of this deadly virus!
AN EXPLOSION BEHIND BORIS AND THE TRUMP LOOKING VIRUS VILLAIN APPEARS.
VIRUS: Oh no you won’t!
FAIRY VACCINE: Oh yes I will!
VIRUS: Oh no you won’t!
FAIRY V: Oh yes I will!
BORIS: Oh yes she will!
I’m Biden my time, just wait and see
You haven’t seen the last of me!
ANOTHER EXPLOSION AND THE VIRUS DISAPPEARS.
BORIS (TALKING TO AUDIENCE)
I wish that virus would go for good.
I’m really sad and misunderstood.
I must be the unluckiest person in the kingdom.
First I had to negotiate Brexit – which I am – er er um – still working on of course –
FAIRY V (INTERRUPTING) – Calm down Boris and have a beer
It’s not Corona – never fear!
BORIS CONTINUES IGNORING HER. HE THUMPS HIS LECTERN AS HE SPEAKS.
Then I had to sort out my divorce so I could get engaged.
THEN we had this rotten, stinking, disgusting virus which I then caught. Such bad luck. Then I had to experience the NHS for the first time and I have to say they were pretty good. They saved my life. Then my fiancé Carrie – what does she do? She goes and has a baby! Since then I have barely slept!
FAIRY VACCINE: Poor Boris. (TURNS TO AUDIENCE)
Boris has managed to pack into a few months what most of us don’t get done in a lifetime! No wonder he didn’t have time for all those Cobra meetings!
BORIS: Oh yes I did! (TURNS TO AUDIENCE)
Didn’t I boys and girls?
FAIRY VACCINE: Oh no, you didn’t!
BORIS: Fairy Vaccine I thought you were on my side.
Are we going to get rid of this deadly virus or not?
FAIRY VACCINE: You have to trust me Boris.
BORIS: That’s what Dominic Cummings said and look what happened! Everyone knows you only need to drive for 50 miles to test your eyesight – not 500!
EXPLOSION BEHIND BORIS AND THE VIRUS APPEARS
FAIRY V: Look out Boris – it’s behind you!
BORIS (NOT LOOKING) I wish my cabinet was behind me. I wish the whole country was behind me!
FAIRY V: No, the virus, it’s right behind you.
BORIS (LOOKING – BUT THE VIRUS HIDES BEHIND HIM)
Oh no it isn’t!
VIRUS REAPPEARS AND FAIRY VACCINE SPOTS IT.
FAIRY V: Oh yes it is!
VIRUS HIDES AGAIN
BORIS: Oh no it isn’t!
EXPLOSION RIGHT IN FRONT OF BORIS AND THE VIRUS REAPPEARS
VIRUS: Oh yes it is! You don’t get rid of me that easily!
BORIS: (BEGGING, PLEADING) Oh Fairy Vaccine, help me!
Help me get rid of this evil virus!
VIRUS: He didn’t say please, did he boys and girls?
FAIRY VACCINE: (REPROVINGLY, IN THE MANNER OF A NANNY)
Boris say please!
BORIS: (QUIETLY) Please.
FAIRY V: Say it as if you mean it.
BORIS: (A LITTLE LOUDER) Please.
VIRUS: We can’t hear you, can we boys and girls?
BORIS: (YELLING) PLEASE!
VIRUS AND FAIRY VACCINE IN UNISON: That’s better!
Boris if only you were wiser
You’d know the help will come from Pfizer!
VIRUS: (STAMMERING IN A SCARED VOICE)
FAIRY VACCINE: Yes my dear your time is due.
The world will soon be rid of you!
VIRUS: (SHOUTING) Oh yeh?
FAIRY AND BORIS: (IN UNISON) Yes!
VIRUS (ALMOST CRYING)
You’re all ganging up on me …
… But I’ll be back – just wait and see!
DISAPPEARS AGAIN IN AN EXPLOSION
BORIS TO FAIRY VACCINE: Do you think we’ve seen the last of him?
FAIRY V: Oh come on, Boris don’t be dim!
(TO BORIS AND TO AUDIENCE)
Viruses will come and go
As they have done for years you know
We’ll fight them off with all our might
And one day they’ll be gone alright.
But just for now it’s hands, face, space
If we’re to save the human race!
Well done for getting this far! And thank you. Hope you enjoyed it.
I wish all of you very happy holidays, a healthy and Covid-free new year.
I’ll be back in 2021 to share more of my thoughts, flash fiction and poetry with you. Until then, please stay safe and take care.
Thank you to the 200+ people who have been following My Life in Poems.
I’ve been blogging on a regular basis for most of this year. Not only poems but also flash fiction and my thoughts on “life, the universe and everything”.* At the height of the pandemic I was posting virtually every day!
Although my poetry has been performed, published and broadcast, it has always been my desire to have all my poems published together in one place. Last year I finally made the decision to self-publish and put 52 of my best poems together in one anthology – “Wonderland”.
I was thrilled that whenever I read my poetry people bought copies of my book. I had planned to get it into bookshops. Then, sadly, Covid came along, the bookshops closed and I had to put my plans on hold.
I still have 100 copies of Wonderland sitting in a box waiting for a new home. Wonderland costs £7.50 including postage within the UK. Any profit I make from its sale will be divided between Pancreatic Cancer UK and the Parkinson’s Disease Society.
If you’d like your very own signed copy simply click on this link or cut and paste it into your browser.
A copy will be posted to you as soon as your payment has been received. Please note that Wonderland is only available in the UK for now.
Whether or not you wish to buy a copy of my book, I’d like to thank you for all your support, encouragement and positive comments over the past year.
In 1961 there was a memorably creative advertising poster campaign in the States which featured photographs of non-Jewish New Yorkers (Asian and Native American amongst others) enjoying Levy’s bread. The campaign slogan was, “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s real Jewish Rye.”
The ad was a first for its time. It was witty, memorable and demonstrated diversity at a time when that was not being done.
And that is why, following on from my previous blog about Chanukah, I thought I would share with you this lovely Chanukah song from YouTube. It is heart warming, tender, moving and truthful.And, what’s more, you don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate it!
As Kyle sang in South Park: “It’s hard to be a Jew at Christmas.”
Growing up, Christmas to me always felt like I was looking into a toy shop or sweet shop window at things I couldn’t have.
I enjoyed the Christmas parties and the festivities – still do – but, being Jewish, I always felt like the outsider at the party.
At home, growing up, we neither celebrated Xmas nor Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights, which takes place around the same time. Father Christmas didn’t visit Jewish children and my parents treated Christmas just like any other day.
When I had children of my own, not wanting them to feel left out, OH (other half) and I experimented briefly with Christmas. We left out mince pies at bedtime and crumbs on the plates when they awoke.
Our children had pillowcases rather than stockings which we filled with goodies. I would stash these away until Christmas Eve. One year our six year old son found my hiding place. He marked all the things he’d found with a felt tip pen so, when they later turned up in his pillowcase, he was able to prove once and for all that Santa did not exist!
As our children grew older, Chanukah replaced Christmas. So our kids wouldn’t feel left out we gave them a gift every day. Something special at the beginning or the end and small presents in-between such as you might put in a stocking. As Chanukah lasts eight days it more than compensated for Christmas!
Each night of Chanukah we light a candle on the special eight branched candlestick known as the Chanukiah or the Chanukah menorah. At the end of the eight days all eight candles are lit. Actually nine – because there is an extra candle on the Chanukah menorah that’s used to light all the others.
There are Chanukah parties, songs, games and special Chanukah foods such as donuts and latkas. A spinning top – “the dreidel” is spun. Raisins are won or lost depending on where it lands.
Our son, when he was seven, wrote a poem about Chanukah:
“How I love to go to bed with the candles shining in my head.
And when I have dreams, how lovely Chanukah seems.”
He’s now a father himself. Each year, until Covid 2020, he and his wife have made a Chanukah party for their children, friends and family. The story of Chanukah is told and acted out with costumes, arts and crafts.
All the children make and decorate their own Chanukiahs. These are then lined up and lit for everyone to see. It is a magical moment.
Our children and grandchildren have grown up celebrating Chanukah and have never felt – as I did as a child – that they are missing out by not having Christmas.
In fact, you could say that we enjoy the best of both worlds!
Over the years we’ve owned two cats. That is, two cats have lived in our home.
One can never really ‘own’ a cat. Unlike dogs, they are totally independent – but that is part of their charm.
Our cat likes to sit on papers
Our cat likes to sit on clothes
as long as they’re ironed
and neatly folded
Our cat likes to sit on beds
newly made beds
And flower beds
Our cat likes to sit on papers
Our cat is sitting on this poem.
It is said that cats choose you – you don’t choose them.
And this was true of Jason who adopted us when we were living in our first home. He actually belonged to our next door neighbours but made it quite clear that he preferred our company (and our home) to theirs.
When the time came for us to move house, I told the owner we would miss their cat and that I wished we could have him. ‘You can!’ she surprised me by replying. So that was it. We were cat owners.
How has shopping during the lockdown been for you?
OH (other half) and I have been fortunate in being able to have our shopping delivered throughout lockdown.
For the first six months we assiduously wiped down every item before putting it away. More recently we discovered that Ocado use robots to handle everything so we have no longer felt the need to use antiseptic wipes on all the packaging which has saved a huge amount of time and hassle.
Last week the lockdown flash fiction task for my writers’ group was to write a story to go with any song title. That’s like saying, write about anything you like! To my mind, much harder than being given a specific topic to write about. It was the same when I was at school and the English teacher said we could write about anything. I would be completely stuck. And I was this time too. Until OH (to his credit) suggested I write about Ocado’s robots. The only limitation was the word count 450-500 words max.
Here’s my story. Please let me know if you like it.
“YES, WE HAVE NO BANANAS” *
It was the week before Christmas at Ocado’s main warehouse in Kent and the 3,500 robots, who normally fulfilled customers’ orders, were having a noisy union meeting.
“It’s not fair,” moaned robot X who normally dealt with the grocery aisles.
“We do all the hard work and the delivery drivers get to have all the fun.”
“Not to mention the Christmas bonuses!” added robot Y.
“You’re right” agreed robot Z. “They get to drive all those trucks and meet people.”
“Not just people,” replied robot 69. “Women. They get to meet women.”
“And men,” said robot 55. “Men too!”
“And they get thanked,” grumbled robot R. “We never get thanked!”
“Let’s put it to the management,” offered robot 127. “X, Y and Z come with me.”
“We’re all coming!” the robots shouted.
“What do we want? We want to deliver!”
“We want to deliver” echoed all the other robots in unison.
And deliver they did.
They overpowered the delivery drivers, took over the trucks and fulfilled customers’ orders in half the time it had been done previously.
It made the headlines in all the newspapers.
“ROBOTS REVOLT!” Said the Daily Mail.
The front page of the Watford Observer read, “YES, WE HAVE NO BANANAS!”
And “ROBOTS REDUCE THE COST OF DELIVERIES” was the headline in the FT.
Management had promised the truck drivers that after Christmas things would go back to normal but there was an outpouring of complaints from the general public. Notably from women all over the country who were enjoying the added benefits of a hitherto little used robotic function, hailed in a scientific paper as the absence of RED. Robotic Erectile Disfunction. Research showed that this was the case because robots never ran out of essential oil.
In the new year there were more divorces than usual. Not surprisingly the robots were blamed.
Many of the other major supermarkets decided that they too would use robots – not only to fulfil orders, package goods but also to drive their trucks. The unemployment rate rose dramatically and again it was the robots who got the blame.
But, thanks to all the publicity, robots were no longer hidden behind the scene and became far more visible in our society.
The NHS started training robots to replace receptionists at GP practices all over the UK.
Robot R appeared on Strictly. And hardly anyone noticed when a robot replaced Fiona Bruce on BBC Question Time.
It’s rumoured that a robot might even stand for parliament in the next election.
Channel 4 are currently making a documentary on what robots really think.
Some robots are now reading the news and a few have even infiltrated neighbourhood writing groups. Who do you think wrote this?
Yesterday was Thanksgiving. One of the things I give thanks for is that OH (other half) and I did so much travelling last year. Because, who knows if or when any of us will be able to travel with such freedom in the future?
In March and April 2019 OH and I drove 2000 miles. Along the coast and then inland through the desert from San Francisco to Vegas, stopping at ten different destinations en route.
We stayed at tiny fishing resorts with quaint names like Half Moon Bay. The views we saw driving along the Big Sur were stunning. One of our most enjoyable experiences was being able to eat freshly caught fish and seeing seals and sea otters at close hand.
The real highlight of our trip was spending a day in Monument Valley, 91,696 acres of land on the Arzona-Utah border owned by the Navajo Indians.
We were driving a hired car so were not permitted, as US citizens are, to drive ourselves around. Instead we took an hour and a half hour jeep ride with a member of the Navajo tribe.
Monument Valley, with its iconic rock and sandstone structures, has often been used as a movie location. Only last night OH was watching the film, Stagecoach and immediately recognised the stunning landscape of Monument Valley. How the West Was Won, Easy Rider, Back to the Future, Forrest Gump and 2001 A Space Odyssey are just some of the many Hollywood blockbusters that were filmed there.
Our Navajo guide pointed out landmarks from films we have all seen. He also told us about his life. It was fascinating learning about the burial customs of the Navajo. He even pointed out the site where his grandmother was buried. On our return journey he asked our permission to sing us a Navajo lullaby. Not much chance of our falling asleep as we were bounced and thrown around over the uneven makeshift roads. Seatbelts? What seatbelts?
The sights and scenery were just out of this world. In fact, it was like being on a lunar landscape but in the desert. Just talking about it does not do it justice. I’ve posted some photos so you can get an idea of the breath-taking scenery.
On our way to Monument Valley we had one of those unexpected experiences that end up making a holiday extra memorable. We stopped off at a gas station for petrol. When we walked inside we saw that the whole place was filled with memorabilia and wall to wall photos of James Dean. It turned out that his last purchase of an apple and crisps – had been at a gas station on that very site just minutes before he crashed his brand new Porsche car into a Ford Sedan at an intersection just down the road. He was 24.
The ultimate purpose of our trip was to meet up in Vegas on my birthday with my cousins who had travelled there from Phoenix and also to see my 95 year old cousin, the last surviving member of that generation of my father’s family.
For my Phoenix cousins a trip to Vegas is what for us would be a trip to Brent Cross or our local shopping mall. It’s where they go for shopping and to see shows. They knew their way around and introduced us not only to one of the best (and also probably one of the most expensive) steak meals we have ever eaten but also demonstrated to us their knowledge of the Vegas casinos enabling us to gamble successfully for the first time in our lives!
I’m so pleased we did this trip when we did. These memories will have to last because we may not be able to have a holiday like that for many years to come – or possibly even ever again.
Today, I jokingly said to OH (other half), shall we pay a visit to the dining room just for a change?
The dining room is rarely used in this house. Saved for family get-togethers and entertaining. None of which is happening during Covid.
We know we are lucky to be able to have a change of scenery – even if it’s just eating in a room other than the kitchen. There are so many people out there who are having to spend lockdown in only one room.
We are also fortunate to in having a garden and green (albeit muddy) fields in which to walk. Even more fortunate in that they are right across the road from us. Within a short drive we also have the benefit of the beautiful Hertfordshire countryside to enjoy.
During lockdown OH and I have been trying to find places to see that we have never visited before. Gardens, parks, fields. But they are less fun when there’s no pub to visit for lunch at the end of a long walk. Nowhere one can go for a cup of tea or coffee. Locally, we have a very pleasant coffee place which we sometimes visit although now, of course, it can only be for a take away coffee. But take away where? To a park bench? Or are we to walk along the street sipping and slurping.
I thought I’d show you some photos of the places we have visited in the past month.
The photo at the top of the page shows glorious Whippendell Woods in Watford. A photo below shows a woodland dell in the grounds of Grimsdyke Manor, the home of the playwright and lyricist, W.S. Gilbert of Gilbert and Sullivan fame. It is at the lake at Grimsdyke that Gilbert died of a heart attack after rescuing a house guest who had got into difficulties whilst swimming.
Another photo shows the pebble beach at Aldeburgh in Suffolk with the controversial shell sculpture by the British artist, Maggie Hambling. I didn’t care for it at first but have grown to like it. It is particularly lovely when the sun is shining on it as you can see here.
The last photo shows one of the huts on the beach selling fresh fish. My late mother, who helped her parents in their fish and chip shop in the East End of London way back in the 1920s, cooked the best fish and chips ever. But there is nothing to beat buying, cooking and eating freshly caught fish!
Hopefully, we are now seeing the beginning of the end of lockdown.
We have the exciting promise of one or more vaccines that actually look as if they might just work. Yet, they tell us, that for some time afterwards we will still have to wear masks and keep our distance. One wonders what long term effect this, so called new norm, will have on the children growing up today?
Until the latest lockdown we were able to see some of our grandchildren at a distance. How bitter sweet that was! To see but not to touch. To love but not to kiss or cuddle. How hard it is to be a grandparent in 2020!
Let’s hope that one day soon we will all be back to our old lives and this past year will just be something future generations will read about in history books.
I wrote this many years ago when I was a National Childbirth Trust antenatal teacher. It was published in the NCT newsletter at the time.
After months of waiting, the date was only a few weeks away. I felt very apprehensive and nervous. Would it be alright on the day? Was I ready? I had my case packed well beforehand and checked every item on the list.
We tried to prepare the children for the big event and talked about what it was going to be like when the great day came. Should they go to school as usual or should they go to grandma or to a friend’s house?
At last the day arrived. We were thrown into a panic. I felt tremendously excited and incredibly nervous at the same time. All my preparation was useless. I forgot everything I said I was going to do and I wasn’t at all relaxed!
Afterwards we were totally exhausted and I was absolutely starving and extremely tired. The first few days were like a dream. It all seemed unreal. We couldn’t believe it was really ours. It was hard getting adjusted. Everything was new and strange.
Had we done the right thing? Would the children like it? And, most important, would we be as happy as we’d been before?
But it was done now – too late to go back. It had been hard work but it was worth it. Yes, we had finally moved house!
Thatcher, Wilson, Brown, Johnson. All such very English surnames.
What about that quintessential Englishman and film star Leslie Howard? His original name was Leslie Steiner. So why the name change?
Pre-war, if you wanted to succeed on stage or in the movies (or anywhere really) you wouldn’t be able to do so if you had a Jewish sounding name. With all the antisemitism that existed one of the first things a Jewish actor did was to reinvent himself or herself.
Hands up if you knew that Lauren Bacall was once Betty Joan Perske? Or that Laurence Harvey was born Laruschka Mischa Skikne?
Pretty understandable why a would-be actor with the name of Issur Danielovitch Demsky would want to change his name to Kirk Douglas.
And then there’s Gene Wilder – Jerome Silberman. Harry Houdini – Erich Weisz. Tony Curtis – Bernie Schwartz. Natalie Portman – Natalie Hershlag. And countless others. Who knew, for example, that Des O’Connor, the comedien, was Jewish?
On the other hand we have Whoopi Goldberg who isn’t Jewish. Her original name was Caryn Johnson. Whoopi changed her surname because her mother said that she would be more likely to succeed in Hollywood with a Jewish sounding surname! How ironic is that!
Today, of course, it’s OK to have a foreign sounding surname and many of today’s Jewish celebrities have kept their original names. For example, Rachel Weisz, Jerry Seinfeld, Lisa Kudrow and Ben Stiller.
It wasn’t just in the field of acting that Jewish people felt the need to change their names.
My late father, the writer R. L. Finn was born Hyman Feinman.
One day at his East End school, in the absence of the teacher, all the Jewish boys in the class wrote on the board the English name they would give themselves when they grew up. My father chose the name Ralph Leslie Finn. I imagine because he thought they were quintessentially English names. Ralph was maybe after the actor Ralph Richardson. And Leslie after Leslie Howard. My dad, like so many people, probably did not realise that Leslie Howard was himself actually Jewish!
However, Feinman was not our original name. In fact, I don’t actually know our family’s name!
The story goes that my grandfather came to London ahead of his family to find a job and home for them. When my grandmother arrived as an immigrant at the London Docks, along with her parents (my great grandparents) and her firstborn child (my dad came along more than a decade later) she was asked for the family name. She did not speak any English so showed them the letter she had received from my grandfather which said that he had found them all somewhere to live. The letter was written in Yiddish and said something along the lines of: “Ich bin ein feinman.” I am now a fine man. The officials took this as meaning that the family name was Feinman so that’s what we were known as from then on!
Nearly every Jewish family has an apocryphal story of how their name evolved. If your surname was something incredibly unpronounceable and unspellable the chaps at the docks would just say – OK you’re Levy, you’re Cohen and so on.
On the other hand my married name, Neidle, is almost the original name. The name is unusual and the few Neidles in the UK are almost all members of our family. OH (other half) is into genealogy and has checked out the family name. Where his father’s family originally came from there were once many Neidles – or Nudel as it was then. The name literally means needle (!) but is translated as tailor. My late father-in-law’s parents came from two villages in what was for a time Poland, but are now in the Ukraine. He visited his relatives there in 1937 and passed on to us an evocative photographic record of the family at that time. Sadly, almost every one of them perished in the Holocaust.
On a happier note, let me tell you about my late father’s brother, my Uncle Ben who spelt his surname Fynn. Uncle Ben had a beautiful voice and became an opera singer. He was the principal tenor of Sadler’s Wells and the Carl Rosa Opera companies. When he began recording it was suggested that he change his name to something more Italian so he became … Benvenuto Finelli!
Tomorrow is what Jewish people call the Yahrzeit – the anniversary of the date in the Hebrew calendar when my father died. The English date was October 30, 1999. Tonight, according to Jewish tradition, I will light a candle in memory of my father. May his memory be a blessing.
Benvenuto Finelli (aka Ben Fynn aka Bennett Feinman or Finerman) 1910-1987
Ralph Leslie Finn (aka Hyman Feinman/Finerman/Fineman aka my dad) 1912-1999
OH (other half) went shopping this morning and saw that everyone has gone mad, just as they did the last time we were in lockdown.
The shelves displaying many of the essential items were empty. Supermarkets are staying open, so why the panic?
Everyone needs to calm down. Keep calm and carry on as the famous poster from WW1 said.
Are we going to be mown down by all the joggers again? Why can’t we follow what they have done in Paris and make a rule that people can only jog before 10am and after 7 in the evening? I think I am far more likely to catch a virus (even if it’s just a common cold) from a heavily breathing jogger than I am from our grandchildren whom I am no longer allowed to see.
Without wishing to sound maudlin, those of us who are into our 70s and beyond do not wish to spend whatever time is left to us having to avoid our nearest and dearest. I know these are the rules and I will keep to them but it seems so unfair and cruel when those same small children can see nannies, au pairs, cleaners, babysitters and teachers.
And if they’re going to bring back the press conferences every day, can we please first of all hear the positive rather than always hearing the negative?
How about telling us how many people went home well from hospital the previous week rather than always telling us how many have died? It would also be useful to be given a comparison of how many people died at this time last year BC – before Covid.
And don’t get me talking about those charts! I can’t be the only person in the country who, when watching the TV on Saturday, was almost begging Boris to get on with it and tell us when the lockdown was going to start. Instead he left us all hanging on, waiting while they led us through chart after incomprehensible and unreadable chart. Is this what we have to look forward to in the coming weeks?
And why not be honest with us? Rather than having Gove say “it may need to go on after 2 December”, let us know what to expect. Tell us the truth for once.
And Boris, if you’re reading this, why don’t you form a special Covid Committee together with Keir Starmer and some other members of the Shadow Cabinet. Maybe, if our politicians demonstrated some unity, then the public would follow suit? Unity is strength, as they say.
While we were still in our tiers, a number of people we know bought garden heaters and gazebos so they could entertain outside. The sales of such things have gone through the roof. There are certain businesses I would like to be in right now – anything to do with the outdoors (including hot tubs, heaters, awnings etc), loo paper, bleach, antibacterial soap, masks, wipes, hand gel – I am sure you can think of many others.
Then there’s the new vocabulary of lockdown which seems to be unique to the UK. A friend in the United States had no idea what I was saying when I blogged recently about the ‘rule of six’. We now have words like shielded, tiers, bubble etc – all to be added soon, I am sure, to the Oxford Dictionary … around the same time as they remove the words – kiss, touch, handshake, embrace, hold and hug.
“Christmas won’t be Christmas without presents.” So said Jo in Louisa M Alcott’s book, ‘Little Women’.
“Christmas won’t be Christmas with Covid”, is what many people might be saying right now.
Politicians, press, commentators and public have been talking about Xmas since September. For all I know, Christmas decorations may have have been up in major stores since August but I haven’t been in a shop to find out. However, our shopping delivery packages are already featuring Xmas on their packaging and we’re still only in October!
I understand the fuss about Christmas. Aside from the fact that you’re celebrating the birth of a nice Jewish boy who historically may have been born in the spring, it’s a time when everyone gets together with relations they don’t normally see. And let’s face it, don’t always like – which is probably why they only want to see them once a year!
Here’s an idea – you could see them on some other day. Or spread it out so you see a few on Christmas Eve, a handful on Boxing Day, some on New Year’s Eve and the rest on New Year’s Day. Assuming you’re able to meet them indoors of course or outside under cover. Or better still, see them during the year so you don’t pin all your hopes and expectations on just one day.
Alternatively, as Christmas won’t be Christmas with Covid, how about we postpone it this year and enjoy it some time in 2021 instead – who knows we may even have a vaccine by then.
I’ve found people are often disappointed with Christmas. They want it to be like the Christmas we see in films and read about in books. Instead, there’s stress over all the preparation, the cooking and hoping that the day will meet with everyone’s expectations. Apparently (at least until the advent of Covid) more couples broke up immediately after Christmas than at any other time of the year.
It appears that we’re not really a Christian country any more. Eurostat’s Eurobarometer survey in May 2019 (that’s a series of public opinion surveys conducted regularly on behalf of the European Commission) found that only 50% of people living in the UK considered themselves Christian – ie 14% Protestants, 13% Catholics, 7% Orthodox and 16% other Christians. That leaves 50% who weren’t Christian at all.
Speaking of polls, a recent one suggested 51 per cent of Britons would break ‘the rule of six’ on Christmas Day. Apprentice contestant Bushra Shaik (I hadn’t heard of her either) was criticised after admitting that she’s planning on breaking government rules on Christmas Day. It’s reported that she said in an TV interview on Good Morning Britain, ‘I’m going to be considering breaking the rule of six. I’m saying what half the population is thinking. This is a tough time, as far as I’m concerned. I know what is best for my family. I know how to apply the rules for my family.’ Hang on a minute. Surely, it’s everyone applying the rules for themselves that has caused the recent spikes and the government having to resort to tiers – or maybe we should be calling them tears.
All this fuss over one day! We Jews had to celebrate the Passover Seder (that’s what Jesus was doing at the Last Supper) in April without our families this year. We also had to celebrate the Jewish New Year and a number of other important festivals without our friends and families. Not to mention every single Friday night. Some of you will have seen the TV sitcom Friday Night Dinner. So you will know there’s a tradition that, aside from festivals, there is a big family meal every Friday night throughout the year for the Sabbath. And that’s just the Jews. Of course there are also the major Muslim festivals of Eid and Ramadan. And the Hindus are having to miss out on Diwali. The 37% who claim to be non-Christian in the Eurobarometer survey (9% atheists, 28% nonbelievers and agnostics), 5% Muslims (3% Sunnis, 1% Shias, 1% other Muslims), 1% Sikhs, 1% Hindus, fewer than 1% Jews, fewer than 1% Buddhists, 4% other religions, 1% who didn’t know, and the 1% who refused to answer, all have all been deprived of their festivals and festivities since March.
Christmas Day aside, there are all the associated trappings of Christmas we are going to miss, such as office parties. I like the quote from Phillis Diller, the American comedian who said, “What I don’t like about office Christmas parties is looking for a job the next day.”
And how can you have a socially distanced Santa? 😦
I have a favourite pair of flat shoes which I wear when I want to look elegant. They’re black shiny patent leather and look great with trousers. They hardly look at all worn even though I have had them for years.
The other day I happened to notice that the soles of both shoes had almost split in two. What to do? Feeling quite intrepid I drove to the nearest shoe repairers. I put on my mask and gloves and ventured inside the tiny shop.
The young man, whose mask was annoyingly slipping down his nose, took the shoes from me. He regarded them carefully as if he were a doctor examining a patient and then said,
“You’ve been keeping these in a cupboard!”
“Surely everyone keeps their shoes in a cupboard.” I said
“I don’t” he said. “I keep them under the stairs”.
“In a cupboard under the stairs,” I said.
“No”, he said. “Under the stairs.”
“Well, most people keep their shoes in a cupboard”, I responded feeling a bit like Alice in Wonderland talking to the Mad Hatter.
The upshot was that he could save them but at great cost to the Neidle purse. At these times of Covid I think everyone is taking the proverbial Michael when they pluck prices out of the air. £35.00, he said. He had taken his mask right off his face to speak to me so I stepped back outside the door and into the rain.
“I’m an old age pensioner”, I replied, trying to look old, sad and miserable behind my mask and hood. Using my best negotiating skills I asked, “could we call that £25.00?” £35.00, he repeated.
“That’s more than I paid for them in the first place!” I answered.
This tale of two shoes brings to mind a time when I was younger, so much younger than today (cue Beatles song) and had bought a pair of fabulous boots from a posh boutique in London. The first time I wore them I experienced a stabbing pain in my foot. I looked inside the boot and saw that a nail was sticking out right through the insole. No wonder they had been so painful! I tried taking them back. “You’ve walked in them,” they said. Doh. “You’ve walked in them in the rain.” “They are boots”, I responded, “you are meant to be able to walk in boots in the rain.” The assistant shrugged disinterestedly. I turned to my lawyer friend Mel, author of How to Complain. He spoke to the shop but received the same – “she walked in them” – treatment. (Cue for another song – “These boots are made for walking.”)
Over the next few weeks Mel and I took it in turn to phone the shop and try to persuade them to take the boots back. One day I received a phone call from a jubilant Mel. “You’ve got your money back,” he said. “They said they were fed up with Mrs Neidle and they were fed up with me!” So, that’s the answer folks. Wear them down – the shop not the shoes. Persist. Persist. Persist.
Returning to my tale of the patent shoes, I thought of calling the repair man’s bluff and walking away, like one can do when haggling in street markets, to see if he would change his mind and call after me but decided better of it.
After all, now we’re no longer going anywhere. I have nothing else to spend my money on, other than food and petrol. Who needs new clothes? Not me. Hair cuts? I ‘ve only had one since February – and that was in our back garden. And, as I blogged some weeks ago in my piece aptly titled, 50 Shades of Grey”, I am embracing my grey. So, I am saving a small fortune by not having my hair coloured.
While on the subject of beauty parlours, a notice came through our front door recently offering all manner of exciting benefits including a luxury pamper treatment.
A luxury shampoo
Blow dry by hand (is it ever done any other way?)
Spritz of fragrance
Blueberry facial scrub
Hydrating body butter
A luxury hydrobath
Nail trim – nails only £5
Then I looked at the other options of ‘full body brush through’, ‘paw wax’ and ‘ear cleanse’ and realised that this was an advertisement for a doggy parlour!
So, another opportunity to save my money! Looks like I’ll be able to afford to get my patent shoes repaired after all.
October 30 2020 will be 21 years since my dad died.
It was my father, the writer and sports journalist Ralph L Finn, who gave me the love I have of poetry. I am dedicating this post to some of his – and my – favourite poems.
Crossing the bar – Alfred Lord Tennyson
Sunset and evening star, And one clear call for me! And may there be no moaning of the bar, When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep, Too full for sound and foam, When that which drew from out the boundless deep Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell, And after that the dark! And may there be no sadness of farewell, When I embark;
For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place The flood may bear me far, I hope to see my Pilot face to face When I have crost the bar.
The next two are favourite poems by Christina Rossetti.
When I am dead, my dearest
When I am dead my dearest
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember
And if thou wilt, forget
I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set
Haply I may remember
And haply may forget.
Remember me when I am gone away
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you planned:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.
I read this next poem – another one of his favourites – at my father’s funeral.
Sea Fever – John Masefield
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by, And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking, And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied; And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying, And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life, To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife; And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover, And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
This next one, by Charles Kingsley, was another favourite of his.
Be good, sweet maid, and let who can be clever,
Do noble deeds, not dream them, all day long;
And so make life, death and that vast forever,
One grand sweet song.
It was my father who introduced me to the poems of Robert Louis Stevenson:
Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you ‘grave for me:
Home he lies where he long’d to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
Finally, just to show that it’s not all doom and gloom, here’s another Robert Louis Stevenson poem. My father used to recite this one to me when I was little. And I in turn, read it to my own children. There is a lovely song by Alison Krauss, “A hundred miles or more” which evokes this poem.
Where go the boats?
Dark brown is the river. Golden is the sand. It flows along for ever, With trees on either hand.
Green leaves a-floating, Castles of the foam, Boats of mine a-boating— Where will all come home?
On goes the river And out past the mill, Away down the valley, Away down the hill.
Away down the river, A hundred miles or more, Other little children Shall bring my boats ashore.
Robert Louis Stevenson
A last apt word from one of my father’s favourite quotations:
For when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, He marks – not that you Won or Lost but How You Played the Game. (Grantland Rice)
Attempting to embrace the new normal, OH (other half) and I recently had a holiday in Wales.
We chose the Pembrokeshire coast which is known to have beautiful beaches and stunning scenery. We were not disappointed. Our first couple of nights were spent at a B&B in the Brecon Beacons National Park. This normally popular inn and busy restaurant, close to the charming village of Crickhowell was – thanks to Covid-19 – closed to business for the foreseeable future other than two rooms which were being let for overnight stays. From the window of our room we could see Table Mountain and the surrounding countryside. The breakfast area had been divided in two creating a complete separation between tables so we felt very safe.
Our next stay was in a guest house in Penally village which is just down the road from the delightful coastal resort of Tenby. There were six rooms and the place was fully booked. Our hosts operated three separate breakfast sittings – two tables at a time spread out over three hours. Much more work for them but reassuring for us.
From our bed we could see farmland, the Pembrokeshire coastal path and the sea. On our first morning we decided to explore the coastal path. Do you know the children’s story, The Secret Birthday Present by Eric Carle? In it, to reach his goal of finding his hidden birthday gift, the little boy has to combat a number of obstacles. And so it was for us in our attempt to reach the beach.
First we had to walk round a caravan park and then cross a very busy main road. Safely on the other side we had to negotiate a stile embedded in deep, boggy puddles of water. We then found ourselves right by a signal-less level crossing. There was no way of knowing whether or not a train might be coming along the track other than by using our eyes and our ears. We dashed across. Moments later there was a train. A very small train but a train nevertheless.
We were almost in reach of the coastal path but first we needed to get past a military firing range. Not helped by all the notices warning us to keep out. “When red flags are raised live firing is in progress, ” the sign read. The next step was to cut across the golf course with its sign alerting us to “beware of flying golf balls”.
We were now, finally, on the coastal path. But it wasn’t a path at all. It was more like a Welsh version of the Great Wall of China! OH and I have walked on the Great Wall and it’s a bit like walking on a big dipper. The coastal path was not quite like that but it was not a path either. You may have established by now that OH and I are not seasoned walkers. In the old pre-Covid days we always enjoyed a good walk providing there would be a pub at the end of it. Now, in these days of Covid, walking is just walking. And often consists of avoiding other walkers. Here on the coastal path we had none of these problems as we were the only ones around. Not surprising because the winds were very strong and it had now started to rain heavily.
Our next hurdle was keeping on the “path” and avoiding the crumbling cliff edges. That’s not to say that we weren’t enjoying ourselves. The scenery was magnificent. We had sea on one side of us, the rooftops of Tenby in the distance and fields all around us. Our stony pathway became sandier and after negotiating a few sand dunes we found ourselves on a deserted beach. Had it not been raining we would have walked along the beach to Tenby but we thought we would save that experience for another day.
Walking back we came across some “practice trenches”, a legacy from the First World War. The Penally trench system – the only known surviving example in the UK – was created to train soldiers in trench warfare before they were sent to France.
That evening we strolled to the local pub for a socially distanced meal. On our way home to the guest house there were two youths walking closely behind us. I quickened my pace. They quickened theirs. And then, to my relief, overtook us and walked ahead.
A few minutes later a police van drew up alongside us and six policemen and women got out. They surrounded us so we were forced to stop walking and demanded to know where we were going. Were we with the youths, they asked. Were we from the camp? Then the penny dropped. Very close to where we were staying was a former military camp that was going to temporarily house refugees. We had read about it on the news. Every night there had been protests. Not from the local villagers but from far right and left groups who were being bussed in from outside.
At the time of our stay, there were only five men in the camp but it was said that there were plans to bring in 250. Penally has only 500 inhabitants so it would be understandable if they didn’t like the idea but as it turned out the locals were very welcoming. It was the outsiders with their banners saying, “no consultation” and “black lives matter” who were stirring up trouble in this tiny, peaceful place. Clearly the police thought we were on our way to protest! Thankfully they let us go once we pointed out where we were staying. But they held on to the youths.
So that was the exciting start of our holiday. Compared to the last seven months it was a wonderful escape from the so called new normal. Give me the old normal – firing range and all – any time.
Because Donald Trump is in quarantine in the White House with Covid-19 I was able to arrange to meet with him on Zoom.
The famous orange hair was now grey and suited him much better. His face was thinner and he looked more normal, if that is a word that could ever be applied to him.
I noticed that his fingernails were bitten right down to the quick and that there was a food stain on his normally immaculate shirt front.
He sounded a lot less cocky than usual.
“Good to meet you Agatha. Where are you from?
Watford? What State is that in?”
I didn’t correct him on my name or his geography as I wanted to be able to continue our conversation.
“My aid tells me you like poetry,” he continued. “I do too. Bigly. I know more poems that anyone else. You know this one? The boy stood on the burning deck, eating a threepenny Walls, a little bit fell down his neck and paralysed his …. My English nanny taught me that one.
Don’t believe all that that stuff you read about me. It’s all fake news. Like that stuff about Melania not living at the White House.
She wanted to paint the house pink but the aids said it couldn’t happen. You can’t call it the Pink House, they said. So she had a bit of a huff. And that’s why she went away for all those months. But we’re very close. If we weren’t close how is it that she also got this Chinese flu? Tell me that!
“What do you think of Boris?” I asked him.
“Boris who? Your guy in the UK? I like him. He’s just like me don’t you think? Same hair and everything. I preferred Theresa May though. Did you see how I got her to hold my hand by pretending I needed support going down those stairs?” He sniggered. “I don’t suppose she’d want to hold my hand now!”
“So what about you Agatha? Tell me about yourself. Do you see my tweets? I bet you’re thinking how does he get to tweet when he’s so ill? I have a team of course. Or as I call them my tweem. Just like all those programmes you watch on TV – they all have teams of writers so of course I have a team.
That’s not to say I don’t write the odd tweet when I’m taking a dump in the middle of the night.
Did you watch the debate? I really kicked Biden’s ass. Did you see how he kept interrupting me all the time? I couldn’t get a word in. Stupid man with his stupid mask but not as bad as that nasty Clinton woman.
Hey Agatha I gotta go. They want to take me to some hospital to make it look like this is a lot more serious than it is. Reckon it’s going to win me a lot of sympathy votes.
It was good listening to all you had to say. And don’t forget to vote for me on 3 November. Bye now.”
Vegetarians look away now. Here’s my chicken soup and knaidlach recipe just in time for the Jewish New Year. Enjoy!
As I wrote in my last blog, it’s not for nothing that chicken soup is known as Jewish penicillin. It helps ease sore throats, colds and flu. If you’re under the weather and don’t feel like eating, a bowl of chicken soup will buck you up and do you the power of good. Highly recommended by Jewish mothers everywhere!
First and foremost, you must use boiling chicken which can be obtained from any kosher butcher. You can try making chicken soup with any other sort of chicken but it just won’t be the same.
I normally use half a boiling fowl. The more chicken you use, the tastier your soup will be. Kosher butchers also sell off cuts from the chicken (wings, neck, feet) which are very cheap to buy and make just as good soup.
Place your chicken in the largest saucepan you have and completely cover it with cold tap water. Do not put a lid on the pan.
Bring to boil and then let it simmer.
While it’s simmering use a large spoon to skim off all the scum that floats to the top. Keep doing this until most of the scum has gone. You may find you need to top up with a little more water.
Add 2-3 medium size onions roughly chopped, a bay leaf (not essential), a few chopped carrots, one or two roughly chopped potatoes and some chopped celery. Do not chop your veg too small. They still need to be recognisable! Some people also like to add parsnips or other veg. But don’t get carried away. You want your soup to taste of chicken not of parsnip!
Add salt and pepper. You can, if you wish, transfer your soup to a pressure cooker if you have one.
Alternatively, leave to simmer for a very long time until the chicken is soft and cooked through. Taste the soup. Add more salt and pepper if needed.
If your soup does not taste chicken-y enough then you can add a chicken stock cube. I recommend Telma chicken stock cubes which you can buy at any supermarket or kosher store. A stock cube is only necessary if your soup lacks flavour. This may be because you didn’t use enough chicken in the first place or you covered the chicken with too much water.
That’s all there is to it. Your soup is ready. Simply remove the bay leaf and the chicken pieces (do not throw them away) and serve.
If not eating immediately, leave your soup to cool before putting it in the fridge. You will find it improves in taste every time it’s reheated.
It can also be successfully frozen. Remove the chicken pieces first! I also remove the carrots because they tend to go mushy in the freezer.
Nothing gets wasted! The pieces of cooked chicken can be used separately in another meal such as risotto.
FOR A REALLY AUTHENTIC CHICKEN SOUP ADD SOME NOODLES
If you want to give your soup that extra Jewish zing then you may want to add some vermicelli (ie egg noodles). You can buy them where you bought your boiling chicken or from most supermarkets. You cook the noodles separately in a pan of boiling water much as you would cook any pasta. The noodles are very fine and thin so they cook very quickly. Turn away at your peril.
Drain and rinse once cooked. Do not put your vermicelli into the chicken soup but rather pour the chicken soup over some vermicelli when you serve the soup. A little goes a long way. You want to be eating soup not vermicelli! This is what we call lokshen soup. Lokshen is simply the name for vermicelli.
FOR A DOUBLY AUTHENTIC CHICKEN SOUP MAKE SOME MATZAH BALLS!
These don’t take long to make and are a yummy addition to your soup.
I know two stories about matzah balls. According to urban myth when Marilyn Monroe was first offered matzah balls she said, “I have never eaten that bit of the animal before.”
The other is the tale of the newly married woman whose matzah balls never pleased her husband. “They’re not like mamma used to make”, he would complain. Every week she tried harder. And every week he would say, “They’re not like mamma used to make!” One week the young woman accidentally emptied half the packet of matzah meal (matzah flour) into the bowl. She cooked the matzah balls as usual but to her dismay they were rock hard. “Ah” sighed her husband happily when he tasted them, “These are just like mamma used to make!”
How to make matzah ball dumplings for your soup
These are called **knaidlach (the ch is pronounced as you would the ch in the Scottish word loch). And you sound the k!
You don’t have to put knaidlach in your chicken soup but you will be glad you did!
The way to make the perfect knaidlech is not to cook them for very long. Many cookery books will tell you to boil them for twenty minutes, half an hour – even longer.
If you want your knaidlech to be light and fluffy and not at all like mamma used to make, then take my advice and simmer them for only ten minutes.
You will need:
4 large eggs
4 slightly rounded tbsps of chicken fat (from your soup) or soft marge/Tomor margarine
2 tsp salt
Half a teaspoon of black or white pepper
4 ounces of ground almonds
6 ounces of medium matzah meal (found in the Kosher section of supermarket)
8 tablespoons (or possibly less) of warm chicken soup or water
Half a teaspoon of ground ginger (optional)
I use a food processor for this recipe but it can be done by hand.
First whisk your eggs until they are light and fluffy. Stir in the soft fat, some of the tepid soup or water, seasonings, ground almonds and matzah meal.
Hold some of the soup/water back – your mix may not need quite so much.
I would also hold some matzah meal back. If your mixture is firm you won’t need it all. If your mix is too soft then you can add a little more meal or ground almonds.
The mixture should look moist and thick but not quite firm enough to form into balls. Cover mix and chill in fridge for about an hour or overnight.
The mixture will now be nice and firm and ready to form into balls.
Half fill a large saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Wet your hands with cold water. Take small pieces of the chilled mixture (about the size of medium walnuts), shape them into balls with your hands and drop them into the boiling water. You will need to do a few at a time. The balls rise to the top and soon swell in size – which is why you shouldn’t make them too big at the start.
Reduce the heat to simmer and leave the matzah balls simmering in the water for no more than ten minutes. Then remove with a slatted spoon into a dry bowl.
Continue until all the balls have been cooked. Put to one side. Drop the knaidlach into the hot soup about two minutes before serving. Enjoy!
To all those who celebrate it – a Happy New Year to all my followers, friends and fellow bloggers.
I shall be taking a break from blogging over the holiday and will be back in October. See you then!
**Knaidlach recipe adapted from The New Complete International Jewish Cookbook by Evelyn Rose (Robson Books, 1997)
Last week I started a cold. At least, I hoped it was a cold.
It was the first time in my life I had been happy to have a cold because we all know it could have been something so much worse.
My first symptom was that my eyes were pricking. This was rapidly followed by a very bad sore throat which lasted two whole days.
There followed a number of WhatsApp messages from my daughter urging me to get myself tested for Covid-19.
So I took my temperature. No temperature. Phew.
Then the sneezing began. Is it really possible to sneeze six or more times in succession? I got through two boxes of tissues in less than an hour. Finally, came the runny runny runny nose which I couldn’t resist blowing rather than wiping which meant more used up boxes of tissues and an extremely sore, red nose.
But here I am five days later and my cold has virtually dried up.
I am someone who has always seemed to suffer from more colds than anyone else I know so I do have some ways of minimising the symptoms which I am happy to share with you.
Self isolate. Stay home. Stay indoors. Preferably, stay in bed. Keep away from those you love. If you can, sleep alone.
At the very least try and keep to the same environment. A change of room temperature can play havoc with those sneezes!
Do not, under any circumstances, be tempted to go out.
As a teenager I always disregarded colds and parental advice. I went out thinking “it’s only a cold” and would find that after exposure to the night air that my “only a cold” had become the cold from hell. As a college lecturer I couldn’t face not facing my students so would take my cold to work which really must have endeared me to my students and colleagues.
But (and there’s always a but) on the night OH (other half) and I first met he had started a cold. His mother had urged him to stay home but he disregarded her advice. Had he listened to his mother we would not have become an item and he would never have featured in this blog. So, I reckon if you’re reading this and under the age of forty I would encourage you to go out if you’re still hoping to meet your soul mate – though fat chance of that happening in this Covid year!
As for medicines, you can make your own very effective Night Nurse with a few drops of a squeezed lemon, a tablespoon of honey and some boiling water. This will do the trick to soothe your sore throat. I also recommend a small teaspoon of syrup from time to time during the day. It works magic when it slides down your throat. Paracetamol at bedtime can be useful too if you need it. And I have to confess to sending OH (other half) out to the pharmacy for some glycerin, lemon and honey medicine as our cupboards were bare. With his new fabric black mask on he looked as if he was going out to rob a bank.
Copious amounts of Vaseline strategically places around the nostrils will stop you from looking like Rudolph the Red nosed reindeer. It certainly works for me and I wouldn’t be without it.
Lip salve or chap stick for the lips is also an essential.
Garlic helps to ward off colds. Too late once you have already succumbed to a cold but useful for a healthy diet.
Have a nice steamy shower and put your face under it.
Bathe your mouth and nose with hot water as many times a day as you can. I find alternate hot and cold water helps to clear the cold up quickly.
Encourage your life partner to learn to cook well before you get a cold so you can rest in bed knowing you will be well fed and looked after.
If it is a sunny day, sit outside for a short while so your face gets some sun and precious vitamin D. Alternatively, invest in some vitamin D pills and take them as a preventative measure throughout the year.
Make or buy some chicken soup. I will follow up this blog another day with a chicken soup recipe Chicken soup is famously and rightly known as Jewish penicillin. It seems to have magic healing properties for colds and flu. Hot and tasty it slides down the throat so it feels less sore and helps you feel more like a human being. OH had a go at making some for me and it worked a treat.
Be glad you have your sense of taste and smell so you can enjoy your chicken soup and relax in the knowledge that you don’t have Covid.
Flying was hard enough even before lockdown. The queues, the delays, the waiting, the crowds and that was just getting into the airport!
Airports are quieter, less busy places now. But would you want to fly?
Members of my writers’ group (*Watford Writers) were asked to write some flash fiction (a very short story) based on one of the paintings in our local museum. I chose this painting by the late Francis Gower, an artist who lived in Bushey. I based my story on a real experience OH (other half) and I had about a year ago.
I had been so looking forward to this holiday.
We were at Luton Airport in really good time. We passed through security quickly and then went to have a coffee. It was only when our flight was called that Derek started going frantic. He couldn’t find my passport! We looked all around but it was nowhere to be seen.
He rushed back to security but it wasn’t there. What were we to do? They said we wouldn’t be allowed on the flight. Think we had realised that! We then had to leave Departures. Not by the way we had come in but as if we had just come off a flight. A security guy led us through the crowds and back along the route which takes you to passport control when you first land.
We were taken to the head of the queue so at least we didn’t have to stand in line. And then what did they say?
“We need to see your passport!”
“We don’t have it!” I howled with frustration. “That’s why we’re here!”
I was almost crying at this point. Crying with exasperation and with anger at Derek for doing something so stupid.
Derek then had a Eureka moment. He remembered he’d left my passport in his coat pocket – but the coat was back home in our hall cupboard! We phoned our neighbour who has a spare key and she had a look for us. It was such a relief when she said it was there. She’s kindly arranged for someone to bring it. And we’ve managed to book for another flight which leaves in six hours’ time. So all we can do now is wait.
We’ve been sitting here for a few hours now. Derek and I are barely talking and I’ve been trying to sleep. I’ve put my cardigan over my head to keep out the light and the noise. But if I had a pillow I would put it over Derek’s head instead.
This short story of mine has turned out to be strangely and sadly prescient.
It was written a few weeks before lockdown and originally posted on March 15th.
Let me know what you think.
“Mummy,” said eight year old Tommy, pointing to a picture in a book.
The picture showed a couple in a close embrace.
“It’s a kiss.”
“What’s a kiss?” queried Tommy.
“It’s something people used to do long ago.”
“Why don’t do they do it anymore?”
“Well, way back in the olden days when there were more of us in the world, there was a virus that killed millions of people. To prevent the virus spreading, everyone had to stop kissing and touching, shaking hands …”
She closed her eyes for a moment. Yes, she could just about remember what it felt like to be kissed …
Tommy interrupted her reverie with another question, “What’s shaking hands?”
“It was another form of touching. A way of saying hello and goodbye. People used skin contact to show they loved and cared for one another.” His mother tried to remember what touch felt like. Tentatively, she reached out and touched her bare arm with her fingers. “Like this.”
Tommy picked up his teddy by the foot and enthusiastically threw him up to the ceiling. “Ah – just like I do with Bodger!” he said happily.
“That’s right,” said his mum, thinking how painful memories still could be.
“Mummy,” said Tommy again, “What’s this?”
He had turned the page and there was an illustration of a mother holding a baby. The infant was cocooned in a shawl and the mother was gazing down in wonder and adoration. It reminded Tommy’s mum of pictures of the Virgin Mary she had once seen.
“It’s getting late, Tommy,” she responded by way of an answer because she had no answer to give him.
Tommy had picked up Bodger and was mimicking the picture he had seen, holding the teddy in the crook of his arm as if it were a new born baby.
His mother decided that they had been talking long enough and she touched the screen to turn it off.
Tommy faded away.
She would talk to her son again another day – the next time it was their turn to chat.
OH (other half) and I have been taking a trip down memory lane and reliving some of our travel experiences. Flying abroad was much easier then than it is now and far more straightforward than it will be in the future.
Way back in 1977 OH and I were on a trip to the States.
In Washington we made a bee line for the Capitol Building as we wanted to take the tour and see the Senate in congress. It was a very hot day and there was a very long line going up the stairs.
Our three and a half year old son was a in a buggy and his little brother was in a baby carrier on OH’s shoulders.
We waited in line for a very long time. The kids began to get fretful as small kids do.
– Not long now we said. Look, we’re nearly there.
At the top of the stairs there were a large number of scary looking cops with guns. At the barrier there was a metal detector.
We had a bag of stuff with us – as you do when you’re travelling with kids. Drinks, raisins, fruit, nappies (diapers). We also carried a small fruit knife – useful for peeling and cutting apples when you’re out and about.
I pointed to the metal detector.
– Our knife’s going to set that off, I said. We had better declare it.
By now one of our sons was crying and the other was moaning.
– When will we be there? When will we be there?
It was just like being on a car journey but without the distractions.
When it was our turn to go through the barrier we sensibly showed them the knife as we didn’t want to set off the alarm.
The cop recoiled.
– You have a knife.
– Yes, we said. It’s so we can cut up fruit for the children.
– It’s a felony to have a knife on federal property.
I pointed to the lockers just behind him where they were putting people’s cameras and other personal belongings.
– It can go in the locker, I said.
The cop motioned to his mates.
– It can’t go in the locker. You will have to leave.
Our kids starting crying again, letting out a howl that must have been heard by all the congressmen inside.
– We have been waiting in line for over an hour, I said. We are here for the tour. Our children are with us, I said, pointing out the two howling kids in case he hadn’t noticed them.
– You will have to leave, he repeated. Alternatively, he offered, we could take the knife outside and bury it somewhere on the perimeter and collect it afterwards.
We thought he was joking. But, no.
– If we did that, I ventured, we could skip the line right? We wouldn’t have to line up all over again?
– You would have to line up again, we were told.
So we left. Back down the stairs. Back past all the people waiting who were all fuming because we had held up the line. Down we went and back outside into the fresh air.
But we were not alone. We were accompanied by two cops with guns who escorted us, not just to the end of the line but right off the premises.
Welcome to America.
Walking back in the direction of the White House we spotted a helicopter heading for the White House garden. Something made us think it might be the President returning from a trip. We started to run – not an easy thing to do in the heat while carrying bags and pushing a buggy and with a kid in a back pack. But run we did.
We reached the White House fence just in time to see the helicopter land and President Carter step out. This wasn’t that long after his inauguration so it was pretty exciting to see the new President. Even the children, who had stopped crying by now, caught our excitement.
But it was ice cream, not the President, that saved the day.
My blog will resume in September. In the meantime, please stay safe and keep well.
I am a dreadful hoarder. I can’t bear to throw anything away.
When I shuffle off this mortal coil, as the bard so elegantly put it, my kids may have to wade through loads of stuff.
So I am doing my utmost to have a sort out. To throw away some of my life. Meaningless to others but meaningful to me.
I still have my NCT (National Childbirth Trust) Birth Atlas though I did manage to get rid of the plastic pelvis. Then there’s my advertising teaching (books, notes, handouts), copywriting (ads,scripts, books, portfolio), art (scribbles, drawings, unfinished paintings), writing (bad poems that I will never show anyone but have kept nevertheless), unfinished books I’ve written, letters from people no one else will know, workshops (handouts, feedback, teaching plans and notes), schooldays (books, reports), photographs (who is this? where was I?) etc etc.
And that’s before we look in the loft where I have a suitcase full of memorabilia. (See my blog, Memories in a Suitcase, 29/3/2011.) Plus I still have all the stuff from our kids who say they will go through it one day.
You see my problem.
I have to confess I am the same with my PC. I keep virtually all my emails, have too many documents and a very crowded desktop.
As for my desk … you don’t want to know.
In other areas of my life I am very tidy and organised. Although I can’t vouch for my underwear drawer. When I was younger one of my relatives was burgled when they were on holiday. Her mother in law said to me, “Can you imagine, she has 14 bras! Who has 14 bras?” At the time I did think it was astonishing that someone could have 14 bras. But I also found it all the more astonishing that someone (and not the burglar) would riffle through someone’s underwear drawer and take the trouble to count how many bras they had!
I haven’t counted my bras recently but I wouldn’t be surprised if I also have a fair number. But it’s a lot easier to throw out an old bra (though it is like losing an old friend) than all the flotsam and jetsam of one’s life. They say we live in a disposable society. We do to some extent, unless you count all the unnecessary plastic packaging used today. Three layers of plastic before I can get to my avocado or a bar of soap. Food may be instant and disposable but not the packaging.
How will the historians of the future manage without diaries and letters? Future generations will have no sense of history. More importantly, no sense of their own history.
No more love letters tied up in pink ribbon. A sext is not quite the same!
I think of all the people I know who have found letters their parents or grandparents wrote to one another during war time. What a find! What a treasure to pass on to one’s children!
After a bereavement, few people will bother to go online and search through their late parents’ photographs and emails. All will be lost.
Everything is disposable today. Not just paper.
You only have to pay a visit to the municipal dump to see that nothing is kept any more. Televisions, white goods – much of it still usable – all dumped. Children’s car seats have to be thrown away because it’s not safe for them to be used again so they can’t be passed on to another parent.
With Satnav and Waze, who – aside from OH (other half) – still needs an A-Z or a map? Who misses shouting from the car at a passer by for directions and then still getting lost? Or the rows one had back in the day when the passenger (ie me) had to map read. See “My Kind Of Man” a bog I posted on 1 September 2016 BC (Before Covid).
Are you writing an essay and needing some good references to impress your teachers? No need any more to spend hours in the library. Just Google what you want.
Throw away your dictionary, encyclopedia, thesaurus and your battered copy of Fowler’s English Usage. Want to know the meaning of a word or an expression? Just Google it.
Just as the Internet was getting going, OH invested in a complete set of Encyclopaedia Brittanica. They now take up room on two shelves in my study. Most of the tomes are in perfect condition as they’ve never been opened. Offers anyone?
Remember telephone directories and Yellow Pages? All gone. I do miss those wonderful ads for Yellow Pages. Remember J.R Hartley looking for a book on fly fishing? It turns out that the book is one he himself had written. A 40 second gem from the golden age of TV advertising.
Our parents’ generation were the make dos and menders. I remember seeing my mother darning socks using a contraption called a “mushroom”. Who darns socks now? Who mends tights? Just throw them away.
So many people chuck out fruit and veg that’s still usable or food that is “out of date” without smelling or tasting it first. Who now uses up leftovers to make delicious soups, stews and casseroles? Not even the French housewives do this anymore.
Few people now own CDs and DVDs. It’s all podcasts, streaming, YouTube and Spotify now. Our kids have everything digitised. Go into any charity shop (when they re-open) and you’ll see shelves of CDs, and DVDs no one wants. Even OH and I threw out our videos. But we find it very hard to throw out books. I don’t use a Kindle. I still prefer the feel, look and smell of a book. You can’t read from a device on take off and landing (remember those happy times?) or take a Kindle into the bath with you.
Our grandchildren only know liquid soap. Give them a bar of real soap and they love to play with it. Make bubbles. Blow bubbles. Do anything except wash with it.
Disposable nappies are a great idea except when you consider the land fill. I remember those buckets filled with soiled terry nappies. Yuk. Once I was so busy trying to shake poo off a nappy into our loo that I ended up accidentally flushing the whole thing down. Amazingly it didn’t block our drains.
Today’s clothes are disposable too. Fashion is here today and gone tomorrow. No one under thirty wants to wear anything more than once. If you’ve been pictured wearing an outfit on Facebook or Instagram you can’t be seen wearing it again, I’ve been told.
I remember the brief fashion for paper clothes in the 1960s. One successful paper product I recall is paper knickers. They were incredibly useful in labour. Some women even wore them during pregnancy. However, I confess I found wearing OH’s Y-Fronts much more comfortable – much to the amusement of the staff at my ante-natal check-ups.
I also remember a great line of copy I wrote when I was writing copy for Bowater-Scott – the brand leaders then of disposable towels. “All over the world people are throwing away our products”, I wrote.
Which brings me to loo paper. The one thing that really has to be disposable. Anyone my age reading this will remember the hard toilet paper we had in the school lavatories (we didn’t call them loos then) and in public toilets. When soft toilet paper came along, it was as if one’s bottom had died and gone to heaven. Such bliss. And it flushed away too.
That’s today’s blog disposed of, so to speak. I will be back again at the end of the week and then will be taking a short break from blogging. Hope you will miss me.
I’ve entered a nationwide competition which asked for creative work produced during lockdown.
The competition is called King Lear because, apparently, Shakespeare wrote that play in 1605-1606 when there was an outbreak of a plague in London.
You had to be over 65 to enter and I’ve sent in a number of my Covid-related poems.
The judge for the poetry is the writer and broadcaster, Gyles Brandreth.
I don’t know quite know how he is going to manage to select a winner because there have been over 16,000 entries!
I’m just wondering how they’re going to whittle them all down? I’ve heard they’ve got a large number of Oxford students to help.
How good, I wonder, are Oxford students at judging poetry? And how are they possibly going to undertake this seemingly impossible task?
They could well take the the advice of a recruiter in the advertising industry who once gave a talk to my students on the do’s and don’ts of job applications.
For every graduate training post, some agencies would receive hundreds of entries. So how to cut them down to a manageable size?
The first thing they did, before even opening any of them, would be to discard any that were not in a white A4 size envelope. That probably got rid of about half.
They would then throw away any where the contents had been folded. That got rid of another quarter.
If the address was handwritten or in anything other than black type, those envelopes too would be chucked.
The envelope had to have been addressed to the correct person, correctly spelt, properly lined up.
We’re now down to less than a quarter of the original applicants. And that is before they opened the envelopes!
The application had to be a maximum of two pages of A4, word processed and on clean plain white paper. No use of colour or fancy fonts. And, of course, no spelling mistakes or typos.
There are probably now only about fifty applications left to read.
However, the majority of the King Lear applications will be online. The only criteria was the age of the candidate and that the poem had to be 40 lines or fewer.
How does one judge poetry?
Are you are a fan of e.e. cummings who only wrote poetry in lower case?
Then there’s Larkin who famously wrote – “They f… you up, your mum and dad …”
And what about Pam Ayres, the nation’s poetry treasure, whose most popular poem starts, “Oh, I wish I’d looked after me teeth …”
Or how about William Topaz McGonagall the Scottish poet who was notorious for writing extremely bad poetry that seldom scanned? The fact that we’ve heard of him today means that someone must have liked him even though his poems are regarded as some of the worst in English literature! Here’s an extract from his poem, The Bridge of Tay.
When the train left Edinburgh The passengers’ hearts were light and felt no sorrow, But Boreas blew a terrific gale, Which made their hearts for to quail, And many of the passengers with fear did say- “I hope God will send us safe across the Bridge of Tay.”
I feel a wave of sympathy for the Oxford students. How many McGonagalls will they have to read before they come across something prize worthy?
I find that much of today’s poetry needs to be read a dozen times before it starts to make any sense. Is that how poetry should be? What do you think? Who are your favourite poets?
Results in September. I’m not holding my breath. Watch this space!
I was 19 years old and in my first copywriting job.
I wanted the experience of handling bigger brands so was touting my portfolio around different London advertising agencies in search of feedback on my work and hopefully a job offer.
Agencies would normally see you even if they didn’t have a job vacancy just in case you turned out to be someone that they could use. If they thought you were brilliant they would create an opening for you by sacking someone else. That’s how it worked.
On this memorable day I was being interviewed at an advertising agency in London. I had been told that there wasn’t an opening and that I was just being seen on spec. Nevertheless it was one of my first ever job interviews and I was understandably apprehensive.
I was ushered into a large conference room which smelt of polish. The solid oak table was long, oval and gleaming. I sat down nervously. The door opened and in came the creative director.
He was incredibly overweight with a huge paunch. He sat down opposite me, breathing heavily from the exertion.
I showed him my book of work. He was non-committal. They usually were.
He asked me very little about myself and barely glanced at my work. He repeated again what I had already been told that there were no vacancies.
Then, all of a sudden he said, in what can only be described as a leering voice.
“I might just decide I want to take on a new copywriter because I like the look of her legs.”
Before I could respond, he then said, “that reminds me I haven’t yet seen what your legs look like.”
To my utter astonishment he then climbed down from his chair and on to the floor under the table. He was wheezing heavily.
I was rooted to the spot. I jammed my legs tightly together and held my breath.
I could hear him wheezing away under the table. Fortunately, he did not touch me. Then, breathing heavily, he hauled himself up and sat back down in his chair.
“We like our copywriters to have experienced life,” he said, with an emphasis on the word life.
I stood up to go.
At the door I turned.
“I’m soon going on holiday to Greece with my boyfriend,” I said to him. “Do you think when I return I will have experienced life?”
“I do, my dear, I certainly do!” he replied cheerfully, giving me a playful slap on the bottom as I left the room.
What would today’s nineteen old have done I wonder?
Years later, working at another ad agency, I was told that one of the firm’s secretaries had been regularly having sex with a number of men in the company. The sex took place on the board room table. Eventually, someone informed the directors what had been happening.
As a result, they got rid of the board room table!
Our writers’ group exercise a few weeks ago was to write a piece of flash fiction. In other words, an ultra short story written to a specific word count.
The subject we were given was “A face at the window”.
This is what I wrote. Let me know what you think and whether or not you like it. Did you guess the ending?
I’ve spent my whole week at work thinking about her.
Yesterday she was wearing a red shawl around her shoulders.
I swear she stared straight at me.
I am haunted by that stare. I see her every day on my way to and from work staring from that window on the upper floor of the mansion block where she lives.
I keep hoping for a sign. She must have seen me looking at her.
“You’re keen to walk the dog all of sudden,” Kathy, my wife, said to me last night.
But by the time I reached the flats it was dark and the curtains were closed.
Who lives there? I wondered. I’ve asked around but no one seems to know anything about her.
Kathy and I have been watching the brilliant BBC series “Hidden” on iPlayer. It’s all about a woman who is being held against her will. I began to fantasise. What if my woman – because I’ve begun to think of her as my woman – was being held prisoner? You do read about these kind of things happening.
This morning I couldn’t wait to leave for work. I even left the house a few minutes early in the hope that I might see her.
To my surprise, there was a removal van right outside the flats where she lives. I had a hell of a shock because there she was being carried out by two men. I did a double take. She was naked and the red shawl had been draped carelessly over the lower half of her body. What was going on? Had I been right all along about her having been abducted?
I was just about to cry out when I realised what a fool I had been fantasising about her all these weeks. To think I had been driving myself mad and losing sleep over her when she was nothing but a dressmaker’s dummy!
Back in March, when all of this started in the UK, none of us had any idea that it would last this long.
It smacked of a dystopian nightmare. Life felt unreal. It was unreal.
Now I understand what they mean by “the new normal”. With the exception of some of those crazy people who would rather die than not wear a mask, we are sadly becoming used to all of this. No longer does it feel strange to carry antiseptic, rubber gloves and masks everywhere one goes. Even keeping our distance from friends and avoiding people in the street has become second nature to us.
The last time OH (other half) and I entered a shop was in early March. Lockdown had not been officially announced but we knew it was coming. We were very impressed at the time because they were wiping down all the trolley handles with antiseptic – something many supermarkets did not do till many weeks later. And, some, for all I know, are still not doing now.
We went to Costco to stock up on loo rolls and other basics. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Costco, it is a huge warehouse piled high with goods, most of which you don’t need. But you’d be amazed what you see people buying there!
You have to be a member and this costs about £25 a year. This is to make you feel you are part of an elite club but it’s really just another way to get more money out of you. Judging from the other shoppers no one looks elite to me.
Many Costco goods are branded. Generally the cost is cheaper than for the same goods in a supermarket. However, you have to buy most things in bulk which doesn’t suit everyone. I think many of the people who shop there are in the catering business. No one could possibly need that many boxes of fish fingers or chicken sate. Costco also sells very large items. Hideous garden furniture (apologies to anyone who has ever bought any there), 60” screen TVs, children’s play houses and at Christmas – 10 foot high Father Christmases and snowmen. They also sell white goods. So you can easily go into Costco just to buy a few boxes of tissues and come out with a fridge.
OH and I have become almost self-sufficient during lockdown. We feel like characters in the Good Life, a popular BBC sitcom from the 70s which my older readers will remember well.
OH mows the lawn while I have been experimenting with seed sowing and even have the beginnings of some honeydew melons which I have grown from seed. I can’t see them ever turning into edible melons but it’s fun trying.
We are also attempting to grow our own cauliflowers, raspberries, strawberries, radishes and rocket. The cauliflowers have sadly been eaten by slugs, we have eaten the one raspberry, the strawberries have yet to appear and the radishes have disappeared. The rocket however is flourishing. The more you pick, the more you get. Unfortunately, one can’t live on rocket alone so we are still relying on regular deliveries from Ocado. They no longer hold the excitement they once held for us. It has become routine now to wipe groceries down before they can be put away. And then wipe all the door handles, surfaces etc. If someone had told me six months ago we would be doing this I would have laughed hysterically.
Venturing outside the house, it looks as if the world has gone back to normal. The traffic is bad – if anything worse than it was before lockdown. Not surprising as most people don’t want to risk using public transport if they can at all avoid it. Looking back I wonder if the people who survey this sort of thing will find that there was a huge reduction in car accidents from April-June. Aside of course, from those poor people who have been run over because they’ve stepped into the middle of the road to avoid joggers! Now lockdown has been relaxed I am sure we will see an increase in road accidents.
And what about food poisoning? Does the fact that we’ve all been assiduously and virtuously washing our hands mean that there have been fewer cases of sickness and diarrhoea? I’m sure the incidences of these must have lessened during the months when people weren’t eating out. Let’s hope that once lockdown is truly over people will want to keep up the habits they have learned of good hygiene.
Yesterday, after a walk, we bravely had a snack sitting outside at a park cafe. It turns out that the people serving were either not wearing masks at all or wearing them with their noses uncovered. I only found this out from OH after we had eaten what passed for food. If my blog goes quiet for a few days you will know why.
On the news we have heard people say that, if there is a new spike of cases, the over 50s will have to stay at home. The over 50s! In my experience, it’s the over 50s who are being careful and considerate. It appears that it’s younger people who have been partying in the parks and open spaces, leaving behind their litter of bottles, needles, food packaging and poo. In the field near our home we have seen large groups of families holding children’s birthday parties, everyone huddled together as if they had never heard of the virus.
The big excitement for us this week has been the return of the lovely young woman who helps out with the cleaning. Half her face was covered by a mask but I think it was her! The house is now sparkling. And it’s so good to know that we have one less task to do! Sad though that no one other than our good selves will see how clean the house looks. We are still entertaining on the “outside”. Friends enter the back garden by the side gate. We sit and chat – suitably distanced – over a cup of tea. And then they leave the same way they came in.
At the start of lockdown I told you that OH and I were attempting to sort out all our books. It took weeks but we have ended up with only two boxes of books we can bear to part with. For me, throwing out books is like getting rid of old friends. Many ended up just being dusted down and going back on the shelf. And although we’ve managed to reduce the number of books on our shelves we still don’t have enough room for the ones we’re keeping. OH has also been sorting out and cataloguing our collection of DVDs. Who has DVDs now I hear you ask? So old school.
As I write this, OH is visiting the dump. He spent time this morning clearing out our garage and loading up the car until it was jam packed. He just phoned to tell me he is in a queue. There are only about twenty cars in front of him, he tells me.
Holidays are upon us. Where are you going? Will it be Brighton, Bournemouth or Southend this year?
Or maybe somewhere a little less crowded? Barnard Castle perhaps?
Holidaying in the UK is something OH (other half) and I thought we’d be doing when we were too old, too infirm, too tired and too ill to go anywhere else.
We said we’re not getting any younger – let’s seize the day. Travel the world, explore as much as we can because who knows what’s around the corner? Well, now we know!
I’m not only thinking of the pandemic but also of Brexit which is going to stymie many people’s travel plans. With the increased cost of travel insurance, health cover and flights – Covid or not, travel is sadly not going to be the same in the future.
So here we all are seeking out the best beaches in the UK – of which there are plenty – as long as everyone else hasn’t had the same idea of where to go. When the weather’s good and the water’s clean then you can’t beat anywhere in the UK for a holiday. Even the food nowadays is better, thank goodness.
A little over a year ago we were in Thailand. OH (other half) had a meeting in Bangkok so we thought we’d travel there a little earlier and chill out on a beach somewhere. We ended up choosing a fabulous resort on the island of Koh Samui, a short plane ride from Bangkok.
When I see someone on TV having what looks like a fantastic meal, I start salivating. So I won’t get you metaphorically salivating by telling you how wonderful this place was or describing the beautiful pool, the stunning scenery, the glorious beaches and the mouth watering food. I will leave all that to your imagination.
Instead I will tell you about our penultimate day.
There were kayaks on the beach so we thought we’d go out in one. That was our first mistake. OH (other half) had paddled (if that’s the right word) a kayak a few weeks previously. But that was on a calm lake in the Cotswolds. The water here was calm. Or so we thought. That was our second mistake. We had spent most of the holiday swimming in the pool because the sea here – although beautifully warm – turned out to be incredibly shallow. Or so we thought. It was evening. No one was around aside from the guy who was manning the kayaks. He made us put on life jackets which we did reluctantly.
Out we paddled to the line of buoys (our third mistake) – over which one was not meant to cross because there was a coral reef. As we drew closer to the buoys something odd happened. Waves started to roll towards us. Waves in the Pacific. Who knew? OH attempted to steer the kayak so that we did not cross over the buoys. And you can probably guess what happened next. The boat overturned and we fell out. And instead of the shallow water we had been expecting the sea came right up to our chests. Or, in my case, being only 5 foot one and a half inches tall, up to my neck. But we could stand. So that was good. We upturned the kayak and took off our life jackets as they were pretty cumbersome.
Then OH let out a yell. (He may even have sworn.) The camera! Before the holiday OH had bought a waterproof camera. Unbeknown to me he had brought it with on this trip and had left it on the floor of the boat. It was gone. Somewhere beneath the Pacific ocean was our camera with all our holiday photos. Lost and gone forever. We were distraught. We looked around for a while but the water was getting deeper and the night was beginning to fall. So we headed back with the kayak in tow. Not swimming but walking. Not waving but drowning.
Our man on the beach barely spoke English. We tried to explain about the lost camera. He tried to explain that the beach staff would try and find it in the morning when the tide had turned. Yet another mistake on our part. Who knew there were tides in the Pacific? No wonder he had insisted on the life jackets.
That evening I googled – as you do – lost cameras and found this incredible story of a camera that had been lost and found two years later.
The next evening was our last night on the island. The staff hadn’t found our camera so we decided to have one last look. This time, no kayak. No life jackets. Just face masks. Not the Covid kind. Think big goggles.
We walked out to where we thought the kayak had overturned. Again the water was very deep. We started diving down to look. We swam and dived all along the side of the line of buoys. But not joy. It could have been anywhere. We had not expected to find it. Nevertheless I felt disappointed at the loss of all those wonderful photos we had taken. Sights we would never see again.
OH suggested that we separate. He would look a little further in while I stayed closer to the buoys. And thus we made our way swimming and diving back towards our starting point. All of a sudden there was a loud yell from OH. Not a yell which said I’ve been stung but a yell of joy. He had found it! Looking down he had spotted the camera’s lanyard floating on the sea bed. We could not believe our luck. Who would have thought it? To say we were overjoyed is an understatement.
And amazingly, it was still working perfectly.
Have a good weekend – wherever you are in the world. Thanks for reading my blog. See you next week!
How will we feel when this dark period of history is over?
Will we, do you think, have learned anything from it?
Many people have referred to it as an unprecedented time. And of course it is. On the other hand, all of us who have been born since the Second World War have been lucky. When you consider what our grandparents’ and parents’ generation went through in the First and Second World Wars one can’t help feeling that what we have had to put up with – aside of course from the thousands of tragic deaths – is an inconvenience. So what if we have had to stay indoors, wear masks, give up long awaited holidays and not get close to one another? It seems to me that we really have very little to complain about. And it hasn’t even been a year yet!
This is not, of course, to make light of the suffering many people have experienced in their mental health, the loss of loved ones, jobs and the dreadful effect to the economy and our way of life. But, for my generation who were born soon after the Second World War, to my mind this pandemic cannot compare to the trauma our parents’ generation experienced in the 1939-1945 war.
Children were separated from their parents. Sent away -“evacuated” – to live with strangers far from home. Thousands of people in our cities suffered the trauma of bombing – never knowing when it was their home that was going to be hit, their loved ones who were going to be killed.
My parents lived close to an aircraft factory which was a frequent target for bombs. If they couldn’t get to an air raid shelter, they would hide cowering with their small baby son in the larder cupboard under the stairs – not that that would have done them much good had a bomb fallen on their home.
I am also thinking not only of all those who were killed or maimed in the war but also of the suffering of the millions who were systematically murdered by the Nazis in concentration camps and elsewhere throughout the Occupation.
So, how will we feel when this dark period of history is behind us? Much, I think, as Siegfried Sassoon wrote in his poem, “Everyone Sang.” Sassoon was 28 at the start of the First World War. He and his contemporaries witnessed death every single day. They experienced at first hand ‘rotting corpses and mangled limbs.’
As I wrote back in May, Sassoon is one of 16 poets of the 1914-1918 war commemorated in Poets Corner, Westminster Abbey. The inscription on the stone was written by his friend and fellow war poet, Wilfred Owen. It reads: “My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.”
Sassoon who had been decorated for his bravery on the Western Front, later became a passionate pacifist.
In 1919 at the end of the First World War, he wrote this poem.
Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark green fields; on; on; and out of sight.
Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted,
And beauty came like the setting sun.
My heart was shaken with tears, and horror
Drifted away … O but every one
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will
never be done.
Siegfried Sassoon, 1919 from Poems Newly Selected (1916-1935) Faber and Faber
“Johnson rushes to put UK junk food advertising on a diet.”
So says the Financial Times. It’s hardly a rush. BJ has been promising to do this for months. The plan could include a ban on the advertising of unhealthy foods before 9pm. Though, in my opinion, there’s something to be said for banning them altogether! But that’s never going to happen.
Some might say it smacks of a “nanny state”but it’s a bid to tackle the high levels of obesity in this country.
The soft drinks levy (the so called “sugar tax”) was introduced in April 2018 with the aim to help combat childhood obesity and related conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. It applied to drinks containing more than 5g of sugar per 100ml. At the time the pundits thought that all the brands would all be up in arms. But what did they do? In order to avoid having to pay the tax, they actually reduced the sugar content in their food and drinks! Sales – if anything – have benefited as have all those children and adults who were addicted to sugary drinks.
What is really needed of course is education. We could start with a return to teaching home economics in schools. If children, right from primary age, learned about foods and how to cook them they might turn into the kind of adults who could cook a meal from scratch rather than turning to the nearest fast food take-away and ready meals for their family’s needs. It does tend to be the poorer families who eat less healthily. This is tragic because – aside from the benefits of eating healthier food – much of the unhealthy food costs a good deal more than the healthier options.
Proposed new rules are also thought to include the introduction of compulsory calorie counts on restaurant and takeaway menus. I’ve seen this done in the USA and think it a good idea. Having said that, I’m not sure how much notice the Americans take – look how much obesity they have there!
Way back in April I wrote about how OH (other half) and I had changed our eating habits overnight. It all began just over ten years ago when OH (other half) was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Before they could do the surgery, he was told he had to drastically lose weight.
The way to do it, he was told, was to have his main meal at lunchtime and something light – such as soup – in the evening. Like most people, we were used to having meals the other way round. But we thought we’d give it a try.
I had been making my own soup for years. It’s tasty, nutritious – almost a meal in its own right. So we started having soup in the evenings. And still often do. I make my own from scratch. It takes about half an hour. Not that much longer than it would take opening up a can or packet and heating up its contents. And of course a pan of home made soup goes a lot further and is a good deal healthier than tinned. What’s more, when you make your own food, you know what has gone into it!
OH was also told to exercise more. Not go to the gym or do anything he’d never done before. Simply to walk more. And not at a gentle amble. But to walk briskly. On our way home that afternoon we also took a detour to John Lewis where OH bought some running (aka walking) shoes. And he started walking from the station in the evening rather than having his normal chauffeur driven service – me.
He began walking more every day. And at lunchtimes he would try to have the kind of meal he would previously have eaten in the evening. Not easy when you’re working full time but he managed this most days. Obviously there were times when we couldn’t stick to this regime such as when we were going out to eat with friends. Remember those days?
The weight immediately started dropping off him. It was amazing.
As for me, I had never dieted in my life. But I felt it only fair to keep him company. So, whatever he ate, I ate. And what he didn’t eat, I didn’t eat. As a consequence, I also started losing weight.
I started out a size 16. Within three months (yes, three months!) I was a size 12. OH (other half) lost three stone! He looked amazing – slimmer than either of us remembered him ever being. We both had to buy new clothes because nothing in our wardrobes fitted us any more. This was actually very handy timing because about two months after the prostate surgery (which was successful I hasten to add) it was our daughter’s wedding.
The good news is that not only did OH lose weight (and get cured from the cancer) but he has kept the weight off. My other half is now half the man he was. And we still enjoy a bowl of soup most evenings.
Four+ months, 125 days, 3000 hours – time for a change!
This has been a week of firsts for me.
Last weekend OH (other half) and I drove to the coast (Frinton since you ask), picnicked on the beach and I actually used a public loo for the first time since lockdown. Public loos are not my favourite places at the best of times. Normally if we’re out I would try and use a restaurant or pub loo. Or, better still, nip into a hotel trying to look as if I’m staying there.
To use the public loo, I wore a mask. Another first for me as there’s been no necessity to use one up till now as we’ve not gone anywhere! The mask had the added bonus of covering up any unsavoury smells but this loo visit was a good experience. So much so that I visited it again later in the day!
Another Frinton first (well, Walton-on-Naze to be precise) was sitting outside a cafe and having a cream tea. The scone was rubbish, the tea not much better but oh the luxury of sitting in the sunshine watching the world go by. The woman serving our tea was even older than me. She reminded me of the character of Mrs Overall played by Julie Walters in Acorn Antiques! OH and I were nevertheless reassured by the 5 for hygiene score on the shop window.
Yesterday I drove my car for the first time in four months. I would like to be able to say that it started first time but I actually had to have a new battery fitted. I had diligently been starting my car on a regular basis but clearly not regularly enough. Readers take heed.
Another first this week was booking a holiday – for next February. Flying (now that’s brave) business class (now that’s expensive) and travelling to Madeira where they have had no Covid deaths to date. Not so long ago I said I would never fly again, in the same way as said I would never vote Labour again. I have changed my mind about one and am seriously considering changing my mind about the other.
Another first (how many firsts can one person experience in seven days?) is that I have bought a dress online. I have never ever bought a dress online but thought I would give it a go. The dress arrived today. Amazingly, it fits and I am very pleased with my purchase. White Stuff since you ask. Ethically sound, Fair Trade and all that. My writer friends from Watford Writers (hello Brian, Mike, Helen, John, Ian and Jan) might get to see it at our next Zoom meeting. The purchase was so successful I went right back to my PC and ordered another one.
It is over four months since I last had my hair cut and my grey roots tinted. (Sorry to disappoint but I am not really a true blonde.) Now my hair is long, straggly and grey with blonde streaks I have taken to wearing a pony tail again – for the first time in what must be forty years. Grey hair might be ageing but a pony tail makes me feel like I am a teenager again!
Lockdown has been a great time for gardening even for those of us who are not great gardeners. I think of myself as a haphazard gardener. I throw seeds into the earth without preparing the soil. I plant things willy nilly in the hope that they might flourish. And sometimes, I get surprisingly good results – and with minimum effort on my part. Earlier in lockdown I thought I would plant some melon seeds. I scraped the seeds out from a melon, washed, dried and planted them in some compost. Left them on the window sill until green shoots became visible and then replanted them into a trough on our terrace. I now have some small honeydew melon plants. I can’t imagine that they will ever produce melons but it has been a fun experiment and another first for me. I am also growing cauliflowers (another first) and you’ll be the first to hear if they’re successful.
The one first I am eagerly awaiting is the first chance we get to hug and kiss our daughter’s three children, aged eight, six and four. Until lockdown we saw them all frequently as we often helped out with childcare. Now we see them from time to time at a distance. Other grandparents reading this I am sure will empathise when I say that not being able to hold, kiss, cuddle, tickle, touch and hug our grandchildren has been the biggest sacrifice of these past four months. A first that I could very happily have done without.
Have a good weekend everyone and I will see you again next week.
If this is the first time you have visited my blog, welcome!
The giant saguaro (pronounced sah-wah-ro), the largest cactus in the United States, is found in the Saguaro National Park, Tuscon, Arizona. The saguaro can reach a height of 12 metres and an age of up to 200 years. Seen en masse it is like seeing a huge crowd of human beings.
This poem is dedicated to Terry, a dear friend and a talented artist. It’s my way of thanking her for introducing me to the beauty, majesty and tranquility of the Arizona desert.
Back in the day when I met OH (other half) at a party(See LOVE LIFE IN THESE COVID TIMES, 26/4/20) and he asked what I did, I told him I was a poet.
Much easier I thought than to tell him I worked as a copywriter!
Most people (ie possible future boyfriend material) looked blank when I said that. I’d ask if they knew what the job was and they would respond, “yes but tell me more.” I would then explain what the job involved – that I came up with ideas for ads. AhSlogans they would say. Not slogans I would explain but the whole concept. I told them that copywriters wrote for all the media. That I conceived ads and wrote copy for press, posters, TV, direct mail, radio, point-of-sale material and the back of cereal packets etc etc. Of course today that would also include writing ads for anything and everything digital. I was fortunate in that I worked at a time when advertising was far more creative than it is now. When TV and cinema commercials were often considered a work of art. Of genius even. Just think of the Heineken and Levi’s commercials (if you are old enough to remember them) and you will know what I’m talking about. That was a time when you actually stayed in the room to watch the TV commercials and left the room when the programmes came on! No zapping for us then because we had no way of avoiding the ad breaks other than turning off the sound or switching off the TV altogether.
Once the person I was talking to found out what copywriters actually did, they would then spend the rest of their time with me talking about all their favourite ads ad nauseum (no pun intended). It was the same at dinner parties or any time I met new people. So I told people I was a poet. Well I was. And I am. I just don’t make a living from it.
It is the same for OH (other half). He only has to say that he works in cancer research to find that the rest of the evening is spent listening to people telling him all about themselves or someone they know who has cancer. There was one memorable occasion when the opposite happened. We were sitting having a meal at a wedding and were introduced to a friend of mine’s new boyfriend. What do you do? He asked. I’m a scientist, OH answered. How boring for you, responded my friend’s boyfriend. He turned his back and did not say another word to us for the rest of the evening.
Polite conversation is a whole lot easier nowadays as Covid has freed us from having to meet strangers at dinner parties or anywhere else for that matter. Conversations now usually start with “how are you?” meaning, “are you still alive and well?” and end with “stay safe.”
So what does one say when asked what do you do? I could just say I’m retired and leave it at that. I hate those four words, “What do you do?” Whether we like it or not, whether we think we do it or not, we all tend to judge people on what it is they “do”. As a woman of a certain age, I still do a hell of a lot. This blog for a start. And loads of other things – mostly enjoyable and rewarding ones. But in those far off days of dinner parties, no one ever asked about those. A bit like the charmer who asked OH what he did and then turned away, most men (and it is usually men) show no interest whatsoever in the person you are – only in the persona. You might be writing the next War and Peace or doing the most incredible voluntary work but if you are not doing any paid work then you are cut out of the conversation. I am sure that my female readers will recognise this all too common and ill-mannered behaviour.
As I wrote in my blog of 6/4/17 (Another Year, Another Birthday) once women are over fifty they become invisible to the opposite sex. Unless of course they happen to be sitting next to Helen Mirren or Debbie Harry (whose real name incidentally is Angela Tremble).
I hate it when women say, “I’m just a housewife.” In other words, I do everything imaginable in the home but am not rewarded for it other than in the satisfaction of knowing that my home is clean and my family are fed. Now we’re in the midst of the Covid Era, many more people are realising how incredibly demanding it is to manage a household, shop, clean, cook, wash, iron, garden, sew and bring up children. No wonder one of the first things relaxed by the government was the employment of nannies and cleaning ladies! Post Covid will anyone ever again say, “I’m just a housewife”. I sincerely hope not.
At future dinner parties (will there ever be such a thing and will we miss them if they disappear?) will people talk about all the new skills they learned during Covid? How they can now recognise twenty different species of birds, knit a suit, landscape a garden and bake sour dough bread. Or will we return to the old status quo – the snobbery of only being valued if you have some kind of paid employment.
In the meantime those of us who used to entertain people in our home are quite enjoying not having to spend half the day in the kitchen preparing food for everyone. Now all we have to do is
sit in the garden with coffee, cake or a glass of wine. It’s so easy and far more relaxing. Entertaining is much more pleasurable when you don’t have to tidy up the house or cook meals beforehand. And, what’s more, there’s very little clearing up to do afterwards. Now that’s my idea of the best kind of brunch, lunch, tea, supper or dinner party.
Off now to do some cooking. Dinner parties or no, we still have to eat! See you again soon.
Two months into lockdown I was awoken in the early hours of the morning by the sound of a heart stopping shriek coming from our garden.
I peered out of our bedroom window and saw a crow perched on the branches of our apple tree. The uncanny noise was coming from him (her?) and I can only describe it as crying. On the lawn I saw a large pile of black feathers. The bird cried and cried – clearly mourning its loss of a partner or a parent. The sound was heart rending. It continued for a very long time before it finally stopped and only then was I able to get back to sleep.
The next morning I went out into the garden and witnessed the pile of feathers though fortunately could not see any body bits. I gingerly swept the lot up and put it into our garden bin.
Since then I have learned a lot about crows because two have become regular visitors to our garden. Carrion crows form monogamous pairs, who stay together for life so we are probably witnessing a crow partnership. Maybe the one I saw being mourned was a crow baby that had been got at by a fox or a cat? Or did one crow lose his/her partner and quickly found another one?
I watch the crows from our kitchen window as they come and go throughout the day. Usually they bring their own bread and dip it into our bird bath before eating. I am sure my blog followers will know that birds should not be given dry bread but will happily and safely eat bread when it’s wet. This is because the food swells in their stomachs and would very likely kill them. However, if you pre-soak the bread then it is already swollen and thus causes no damage. If I do nothing else today, this information of mine might save some poor bird’s life.
A number of times we have seen the crows with bagels. Not the mini bagels. Full size ones. I kid you not. The other day one of them brought a toasted bagel! Left it in the bird bath to soften and then returned for it later. The bagel was so big that it took up the whole of the bird bath thus deterring other birds of being able to use it. Have you noticed that there is definitely a hierarchy of birds? The smaller birds kowtow to the bigger ones. Crows get first dibs at the bird bath, followed by doves and pigeons. Smaller birds come much lower down in the pecking order – maybe that’s where the expression pecking order originally came from?
Another interesting expression is, “stone the crows”. The older ones among you will remember that this expression was popularised in the 50s and 60s by the radio and television comedian, Tony Hancock (1924-68). He tended to use it in its shortened form of “stone me!” It’s an exclamation of amazement, disbelief or disgust as in, “stone me – the crow’s taken my bagel!” I’d be pleased to hear from anyone out there who has any idea how this expression might have originated.
It’s fascinating watching the antics of the crows. I’ve seen them hide food in our hedge and return for it at another time. The other day I saw one of the crows searching for something he had hidden in the guttering just outside my study window. Suddenly he swooped down and picked up a large digestive biscuit and promptly flew off with it in his beak. I do wonder where they’re getting all this stuff from? I find it hard to believe that someone out there is feeding the birds digestive biscuits and bagels! Yesterday we noticed that our bird bath was suddenly attracting wasps. I looked closer and discovered that the edges of the bird bath were smeared with jam – presumably from the stolen bagel!
Bird watching has always given me pleasure. But never more so than in lockdown. If the bird bath dries out I’ll fill it up with water so that the crows have somewhere to dunk their bread. Other birds visit too. There is a big fat collared dove who likes to drink from the bird bath. He then turns his back and poos in it. The dove is so fat that the bird bath basin wobbles when he sits on it. He also displaces all the water and I end up having to refill it – at the same time clearing out the poo, though I don’t think poo in the bird bath is any kind of deterrent to the crows and all the other birds who visit it on a regular basis.
When I was at school we learned a song about a carrion crow. “A carrion crow sat on an oak, derry derry derry derry down o – watching a tailor mend a cloak” is how it went. In music lessons we all had a song book. The boys in our class took great pleasure in going through the book and altering the words in the song titles. “Where The Bee Sucks There Suck I”, from The Tempest (Shakespeare) was a favourite.
Where the bee sucks, there suck I:
In a cowslip’s bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat’s back I do fly
After summer merrily.
Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.
I bet they don’t teach today’s kids songs like that any more! Just as well.
I can count on one hand the number of times I have ever had my nails done or had any kind of beauty treatment. No Botox for me.
I didn’t dye my hair for the first time until I was in my 50s and going grey. And I only did that when people started offering me seats and opening doors for me!
I began by dyeing my hair myself – that is to say with the help of my daughter at the start. Then I got up the courage to do it myself. Eventually, I ventured into a hair salon and I have never looked back. Until now.
I was the kind of person who could not bear to have any grey whatsoever showing in my very short hair. At five foot one and a half inches tall I was always aware that people would look down on me (as in from a great height not I hope for any other reason!) and see the grey tips showing. So I went regularly to the salon for a cut and to have the roots recoloured.
Those of you who think of me as blonde (or with yellow hair according to my daughter’s children) will imagine I have the whole of my head dyed. Not at all. Just the root regrowth to cover up the grey.
Now here I am four months later with hair so long that I can whisk it up into a pony tail – albeit a short one. And with long grey streaks which, amazingly, I am beginning to quite like.
My hairdresser texted me a while back to say that I could now return if I wished. But I am in no hurry. Even if there were no virus to worry about I am now interested to see what hair colour is emerging. I am curious to let the yellow grow out and see how I look with 50 shades of grey. When we finally emerge from lockdown will I look like Miss Haversham but without the wedding dress?
OH (other half) says it suits me. But he would say I looked good even if I had a bag over my head! It’s not that he doesn’t look at me but I think that after nearly fifty years of marriage (Covid permitting) he continues to see me as if I am still the woman he married – which is very touching. And, to be fair, he often compliments me on how I look even when he is not being asked for an opinion.
A few years ago we were on holiday in Cannes and going out for dinner. I had put on an elegant black linen sundress for the occasion. How do I look? I asked him before we left. Fine was his answer. It is his usual answer. How was the dinner? Fine. How’s my hair? Fine. How do I look? Fine. I think the only time he would not answer fine would be if I asked him, how’s my driving?
There we were walking hand in hand along the Croisette in Cannes where all the beautiful people go to see and be seen. It was a pleasant warm summer evening. Everyone was out strolling before dinner. I felt wonderful. All was right with the world. Then someone behind me tapped me on the shoulder. I turned. It was a young woman walking with her friend. “Excuse me, she said in loud Australian English, “but I think you might like know that you have your dress on inside out”.
So ladies, unless you are still on your honeymoon, take my advice and beware when your other half says you look fine.
The big excitement for me last week was a visit to the dentist. I say big excitement but I actually felt incredibly nervous. Not because I was going to the dentist, though that’s not normally my idea of fun, but because it would be my first time going anywhere – other than for walks and the occasional socially distanced meeting in someone’s garden.
Those of you who have been following my blog will remember that I lost a filling pretty early on in lockdown. Until recently I have been coping with the kind of dental putty you can buy over the counter – I obtained mine online. It worked to some extent but never lasted very long. Without boring you with the detail it got to the point where a visit to the dentist was going to be a matter of necessity. I made the appointment with great trepidation but they assured me that it would be safer than a visit to a supermarket. Since I have not visited a supermarket since the start of lockdown that comparison was pretty meaningless for me.
I took the first appointment of the day thinking that it would be less risky being the first patient. I was asked some health related questions, my temperature was taken and I was given a mask (my first!) to wear. There were only four chairs in the waiting room – one in each corner.
My dentist is lovely. At least I assume it was my usual dentist because, what with her mask and her visor, I could only see her eyes. She explained that there would be no drilling as that’s still not allowed and that I would be given a temporary filling – not that unlike the ones I have been giving myself! But boy did she get close to me. It felt quite scary and threatening after 106 days in captivity to have someone’s face so close to mine. The only person who has been able to get that close to me is OH (other half). And there were TWO of them because there’s also the dental nurse hovering over me as well. Anyhow, I survived. That was four days ago and I haven’t got ill yet so I think – temporary filling aside – that I’m going to be OK. I just hope this temporary filling lasts as I don’t plan to return any time soon.
The last few months have made us all so wary of other human beings. The way we swerve away from other people, jump to one side and turn our backs on them. It’s such unnatural behaviour.
And now the pubs are open. Someone said on the radio today as if they had made a great discovery – drunk people don’t keep to social distancing. Well, there’s a surprise.
So, aside from visiting the dentist and the pub, how have you been spending your time? Many of us have been escaping into our hobbies, reading more or watching more TV. I’ve heard people say that they haven’t wanted to watch anything that’s going to make them feel miserable. Nowadays what they choose to view has to be upbeat or just pure escapism.
Before lockdown OH (other half) and I watched very little TV and now – like many other people I suspect – we watch nearly every evening.
Recently, I inadvertently found I had signed up to Amazon Prime (has this happened to you?) and we’re using our 30 days free trial to watch The Amazing Mrs Maisel – an American comedy about a female stand-up comic set in the 1950s. Discussing it with our daughter via WhatsApp afterwards I was surprised to discover that she had thought that the comedien Lenny Bruce was an invented character! It came as a complete shock to her to know that he had really existed. I was in my late teens when he died but I still remember the furore at the time – in the same way as I do when Marilyn Monroe died in 1962. I was on a French exchange at the time. My French penfriend’s dad was elderly and prudish – though that didn’t stop him trying to play footsie with me under their dining table or accidentally coming into my room when I was getting undressed. This dirty old man thrust the newspaper of the day into my face and told me that Marilyn Monroe was a whore and deserved all she got. The fact that she wore lipstick settled the matter as far as he was concerned.
OH and I also invested in Netflix at the start of lockdown. Not that it’s a big investment. And we feel we already have had terrific value for money. We had been watching The Crown whenever we babysat for our grandchildren in the pre-covid days and wanted to see the last few episodes. Having Netflix has opened up a whole new world to us. The first thing we watched was Unorthodox. By now I imagine everyone will have seen it. But, if you haven’t, I urge you to do so. I am now reading the book. Like my blogger friend Mel I also originally accidentally ordered the version in German – a bit like Amazon Prime it’s easily done! We have also loved watching Shtisel and I can’t wait for the start of the next series.
A couple of weeks ago OH and I did something really decadent. We watched TV during the day! We were so hooked on the series Hidden that we couldn’t wait to see what happened next so we binge watched it over a few days. My excuse was that I didn’t want to watch it late at night as then I wouldn’t have been able to sleep! Other series I can recommend are The Stranger and The Nest. What have you been watching and what do you recommend?
We’ve also caught up with some theatre we missed. We watched the National Theatre’s production of Small Island which we thoroughly enjoyed. Before Covid OH and I were regular theatre goers. We visited the theatre far more frequently than we did the cinema. It will be tragic if we lose our theatres. Relieved to hear of Rishi Sunak’s announcement today that the government is “introducing a £1.57 billion rescue package to help cultural, arts and heritage institutions weather the impact of coronavirus.” That money isn’t only intended for theatres so it will be interesting to see the final details once they have been disclosed.
OH and I have now been in lockdown for 106 days. Well, it’s semi lockdown now as we have been going for walks and entertaining (and I use that word loosely) friends in our garden for some while. Now the weather has become cooler and more blustery – wet even – it’s hard to get excited about sitting in one’s garden (or someone else’s) with umbrellas on standby. It was easier back in May when the weather was so good.
Lockdown has been tough for all those singles out there. There was an interesting and amusing piece in the Weekend supplement of Saturday’s Times. A divorced woman of 46 had begun dating again and was using apps to meet the opposite sex. A man she was quite liking online then texted her a photo of his genitals. Did he imagine this would endear him to her? Sorry to disappoint my male readers but most women are not turned on by photos of the male appendage – the opposite in fact. So astonished was the writer that she showed the picture he had sent her to her mother. Her mother did not realise or recognise what she was seeing and thought it was a picture of someone’s foot. Makes you wonder how she ever became a mother in the first place!