Thursday, 25 February 2021

Stabby Stabby

 

While Claire has been doing the stabby thing down in Brighton, we have been getting stabbed up here too. I got an invite from the doctor the other week, and sent a message to the surgery questioning if it was an error because I assumed I was in Group 8. A nice lady phoned and assured me that they had put me in Group 6 because of my cancer history. It feels ridiculous that people much more vulnerable than me are still waiting but I was not going to turn it down. I feel strangely different; both less anxious because of my reduced risk of contracting covid, but also it suddenly felt more real and more threatening. As Tish tells us the vaccine centres work like well oiled machines and I was in and out in no time, in fact, in plenty of time to go and catch the train. Monkey and I went down to Wilmslow to see a private doctor for her tests for her Fukuoka University application. So she got stabbed (though taking blood out not putting anything in), peed in a cup and then went down the road to the Wilmslow Hospital for a chest x-ray. And job done. Her application can go in, as soon as it arrives that is. Though she also has to write a proposal for an extended piece of independent research that she has to complete while she is there. No wonder she needs such a thorough check-up, they are going to make her work very hard.

Stay safe, Be kind. See you tomorrow.

Monday, 22 February 2021

Puzzle Torture

 

Back at the beginning of January we started the Klimt Life and Death puzzle, seven long weeks ago. Seven long weeks of lockdown, without the gym to keep us from slugdom. We have worked out with Joe, sometimes even a couple of times a week, but often not. We have only had Criminal Minds and Silent Witness to keep us going. And the puzzle ...
The puzzle however became even worse torture than we anticipated at the start. While the lovely colourful part was completed with ease it went downhill from there. And pieces would fit in the wrong place!! This should not happen. Moving into the good daylight in the front room helped a bit and we went from several hundred pieces down to about 50. Then we had to start moving pieces. We got down to a dozen, and none of them fit in the space that was left. Often we would end a session with more spaces than we started with, but gradually, oh so gradually, became more confident that things were in the correct place. This morning I was down to three ...
armed with a trusty pin to pick out errant pieces I made some final adjustments.
I am going to buy a frame because we are NEVER doing this puzzle again.
I was going to review 'The Hearing Trumpet' by Leonora Carrington, which I finished a week ago, but am too emotionally drained.

Stay safe. Be kind. See you tomorrow.

Thursday, 18 February 2021

This

 

(Which Dunk informs me was demolished last year.)
Stay safe. Be kind. See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Not much snow

 

The tiny amount of snow that fell yesterday has frozen on the ground and the sky is bright blue this morning. The garden has a dusting like icing sugar. The previously overflowing pond is now topped with ice. The snowdrops are growing appropriately. The heating is working very badly and the house is chilly, but through the front window I can see tiny flakes floating down so maybe we will have some snow joy and a crunchy walk round the park later. There have to be some consolations.
Stay safe. Be kind. See you tomorrow.

Monday, 8 February 2021

brain explosion

Quote from today's Guardian from the DUP MP Gregory Campbell about an edition of Song's of Praise in January. One assumes he never watched much telly for the last fifty or so years:

“There were five singers, all of them black. There were three judges all of them black and one presenter who was incidentally, yes black. The singers were all very good but can you imagine an all-white line up with an all-white jury and presented by a white person? No I can’t either.” "

I'll just leave it there so other people's brains can explode too.

In other news apparently we have our own local variant of covid, and so popping to get a test in the morning.


Stay safe. Be kind. See you tomorrow.

Saturday, 6 February 2021

Rabbity rabbity


'The Constant Rabbit' by Jasper FForde is the first of two books that Monkey bought me for crimbo. We first discovered Jasper back in 2009 and although Thursday Next was great our enthusiasm petered out and I have not consumed his entire output. Constant Rabbit is a completely different world altogether. In it, fifty years previously, some miraculous Event has occurred and transformed a number of animals into sentient human-like-but-still-animal creatures. The rabbits are the most successful of these, if you think in terms of numbers, since they continue to reproduce like rabbits, but the human race has had a mixed reaction to the arrival of these new species. In the UK the government is now a nasty right wing party led by the despicable Smethwick that, while accepting some species (like the foxes and weasels), has turned against the rabbits and, accusing them of wanting to take over by eventually outnumbering the humans, is planning to intern them all in a mega warren. 
"The rabbit issue used to be a friendly chat over tea and hobnobs in the old days, but the argument had, like many others in recent years, become polarised: if you weren't rabidly against rabbits, you were clearly in favour of timidly bowing down to acquiesce to the Rabbit Way, then accepting Lago as your god and eating nothing but carrots and lettuce for the rest of your life." (p.113)

Our hero, Peter Knox (rhymes with Fox) (though he is not a fox, he works for  Mr Ffoxe) (pronounced fox) (and at one point I thought there is a wonderful allusion to Fox in Socks, but maybe that was just me), who discovers that the love of his youth, one Constance Rabbit, is back in his life as his new neighbour. Peter however works for the nasty RabCoT that oversees the lives of rabbits everywhere. Slowly he finds himself drawn into the rabbit's fight for autonomy, while trying to dupe his boss, and his leporiphobic local community, that he is still doing his job, and trying to persuade the rabbits to move out. 
It is mostly a book about prejudice, which is basically just fear of anything different, and fear of change (sorry, that's a bit simplistic but it is sometimes the way it appears). It also touches on the idea of institutionalised prejudice, for example the laws that allow foxes to kill rabbits without consequence because that would be natural behaviour for them. Like Fforde's other books he makes a lovely complete world, like ours, but utterly different, and you are certainly being entertained while you are being educated. 
Here Peter meets the Venerable Bunty (like a rabbit Dalai Lama) and Finkle (of the Rabbit Support Agency):
"The conversation stopped for a minute or two while the Venerable Bunty cut the hardly-squashed-at-all walnut cake, but soon picked up again as relearned that the Venerable Bunty was brought up in-colony and has been doing miracles since passing her GCSEs, so had been a shoo-in to take over as spiritual leader when the previous Bunty died, herself the fifth since the Event. Our meeting seemed chatty rather than focused and at one point I asked Finkle whether he wanted me to do anything.
'Not really,' he said. 'I just wanted to meet you. Get the measure of Connie's neighbour, see what he had to offer. Now that I have, I'd like you to play along with Mr Ffoxe. You can tell him about this meeting if you like. There's been no breach of the law, just a minor employment infraction on your behalf for talking to me.'
'Are you sure?' I asked, disappointed that I wasn't going to be of more use.
'We're sure,' said Finkle. 'You can tell him about Bunty too. Just give us four hours to make ourselves scarce before you do.'
'That's it?' I said.
'That's it.'
So while we ate the excellent walnut cake that the Venerable Bunty's mother's sister's daughter's husband's son had baked, Venerable Bunty and Connie told us about life inside the colonies, which despite the lack of freedom and limited space were the only areas within the United Kingdom that ran themselves entirely on rabbit socio-egalitarian principles." (p.236-7)

It turns out that the rabbits do have other plans for Peter, in which he proves himself a better person than he thought he was, but you won't find any spoilers in this review (except now, so don't read this next bit).
Last little quote, just because I was amused by this, excellently apt, description of London:
" 'That's true,' said Lance, 'but the second circle of Lago is about restorative self-justice. Responsibility for one's errors, choice-consequences and transgressions. You didn't kill Mr Ffoxe, so you shouldn't go to prison. Luckily, it's relatively easy to outfox the British legal system. Your billionaires do it all the time. The way we see it, London is just one massive money-laundering scheme attached to an impressive public transport system and a few museums, of which even the most honest has more stolen goods than a lock-up garage in Worcester rented by a guy I know called Chalky.' " (p.284)

Sometimes you just need a fast paced plot with a surreal setting, and a happy ending (ish). 
Stay safe. Be kind. See you tomorrow.

Quicksand and Passing

 

In the 1920s  Nella Larson wrote these two well received novellas that look closely at the experience of mixed race women and their search for an identity. They appear to be mostly autobiographical from her own experience growing up in the early 20th century. After they were published she was caught up on a plagiarism controversy and although she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship she never published again and returned to nursing later in her life.

In Quicksand a young woman, Helga, leaves the stifling Black college where she teaches and goes in search of a new kind of life. She settles for some time in Harlem, relishing being part of a Black community but then uses money given by her estranged uncle to travel to Copenhagen to live with her maternal aunt. She is treated as a exotic curiosity there but loves the affluence her aunt's household offers. On returning to America she happens upon a revival meeting and is swept along and ends up married to the preacher; hoping to find new meaning for her life she just sinks down into the quicksand of drudgery from which she is unable to escape. At the end she is recovering from post-natal depression and decides to leave, but finds herself pregnant again. Helga has an ambiguous relationship with being Black; she often expresses internalised racism, feeling distain for Black people and not wanting to identify with them. The story is about her wanting to escape the trappings of being a Black woman. Her she receives a letter and cheque from her uncle:
"Beside the brief, friendly, but none the less final, letter there was a check for five thousand dollars. Helga Crane's first feeling was one of unreality. This changed almost immediately into one of relief, of liberation. It was stronger than the mere promise of security from present financial worry which the check promised. Money as money was still not very important to Helga. But later, while on an errant in the big general office of the society, her puzzled bewilderment fled. Here the inscrutability of the dozen or more brown faces, all cast from the same indefinite mold, and so like her own, seemed pressing against her. Abruptly it flashed upon her that the harrowing irritation of the past weeks was a smouldering hatred. Then, she was overcome by another, so actual, so sharp, so horribly painful, that forever afterwards she preferred to forget it. It was as if she were shut up, boxed up, with hundreds of her race, closed up with that something in the racial character which had always been, to her, inexplicable, alien. Why, she demanded in fierce rebellions, should she be yoked to these despised black folk." (p.54-5)
(The book can be read online here.)

Passing tells the story of two friends, and explores the effect of 'passing' as white in a racially divided society. Irene is married to a Black man and only passes in some situations when it is more convenient. Clare passes as white and married a white man who does not know she is Black. At one point she describes her terror while pregnant that her baby would give away her racial heritage. Here Irene and Clare and another friend discuss the notion of heredity and their children:
" 'No', she went on, 'no more for me either. Not even a girl. It's awful the way it skips generations and then pops out. Why, he actually said he didn't care what colour it turned out, if I would only stop worrying about it. But, of course, nobody wants a dark child.' Her voice was earnest and she took for granted that her audience was in entire agreement with her.
Irene, whose head had gone up with a quick little jerk, now said in a voice of whose even tones she was proud: 'One of my boys is dark.'
Gertrude jumped as if she had been shot at. Her eyes goggled. Her mouth flew open. She tried to speak, but could not immediately get the words out. Finally she managed to stammer: 'Oh! And your husband, is he - is he - er - dark, too?'
Irene, who was struggling with a flood of feelings, resentment, anger, and contempt, was, however, still able to answer cooly as if she had not that sense of not belonging to and of despising the company in which she found herself drinking iced tea from tall amber glasses on that hot August afternoon. Her husband, she informed them quietly, couldn't exactly "pass"." (p.168)
While the book could feel like a period piece, being set a century ago, it has so much to say about both society's and people's experience of racism and identity and is still so relevant today. Much thought provoking.
Stay safe. Be kind. See you tomorrow.


Thursday, 4 February 2021

lockdown yarn shopping


Yes, I know those are books. I bought some books too. Brian Bilston's, who's poem I shared the other day, book arrived, and is already a delight. In the introduction he makes this interesting point about the difficulty of poetry writing: "Secondly, to demonstrate my poetic versatility, some of them do not rhyme. These poems were harder to write as I had to select words from a much larger pool. It has been estimated that there are over one million words in the English language, and so hand-picking each word to go into a poem has proved to be something of a Herculean labour." Also arrived are 'Sillicide' by Cynan Jones, reviewed in the Guardian and bought because he came to the lit festival years ago, and 'Mrs Death Misses Death' by Salena Godden (who also came to the lit festival), that I bought to share with Julie (hi Jules) because I think she will love it.

Yarn buying during lockdown is not such a multi-sensory experience as it used to be. While online yarn shopping is ok, nothing beats the pleasure of browsing and stroking all the lovely yarn, and buying something just because it is indescribably soft. I have started a blanket for the sprog but Julie and I are going to knit 'Gaudi' (ravelry link) as a joint project so am hunting for something delightful to use. This Fyberspates Scrumptious wool/silk is the current favourite, with possibly some 'I played Fortnite With Bill Gates!!!!' from Countess Ablaze.

Am planning a tree watching project, taking regular photos of this lovely tree in the Moss Side Community Park at the end of our street. It gave me much pleasure over last year watching the changes as I rode home from work each day and so I decided to document it this year.


Stay safe. Be kind. See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

baby worms

It was this time last year when I managed to kill off the Daves and then I replaced them with the Julians in June. I am happy to report that they are still going strong, despite the recent very cold weather. I opened them up to feed today and their whole house was full of baby worms, dozens in the sump from where I rescued them and put them back with the food. They're not as cute as most baby animals but I am excited to see them. We currently have one snowdrop and some other bulbs sprouting but I can't remember what they are.

We have walked in the park this lockdown, though not as much, and often in the dark. Everything has been kind of damp and grey but I am looking forward to the spring.


Stay safe. Be kind. See you tomorrow.
 

Saturday, 30 January 2021

Good news, sad poetry

In good news yesterday scientists have discovered why wombats have cubed poo, activists who protested deportations in 2017 and were convicted under anti-terrorism laws have had their convictions quashed, and in France the village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon was left a large bequest by a man who's family had been sheltered there fleeing the Nazis. The article points out this is nothing new for the local community;  "Over the centuries the village has taken in a wide range of people fleeing religious or political persecution, from priests driven into hiding during the French Revolution to Spanish republicans during the civil war of the 1930s, and more recently migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa." What a proud history for a village to have; it makes me feel better about the human race.

In poetry news there was this little piece about poets writing lockdown poems and linking to this one from Brian Bilston which is somewhat more of a political commentary on the current situation:


Stay safe. Be kind. See you tomorrow.

p.s. Just browsing Brian Bilston's website and found this wonderful take on Lovesong (that I shared the other day)

 

Thursday, 28 January 2021

Monday, 25 January 2021

Turn around at a safe location

 

They are phasing out the collection of covid test kits (for a priority postbox near you to post your test kit put your postcode here)so I will get my Sunday mornings back, and no longer have to battle with the Route Optimisation and Nagivation ap. It's not all bad, in fact I couldn't have done without it, but the tendency to try and take you somewhere when you input an address that is not on the system was most frustrating. It was no good either when there were roadworks and diversions, demanding that you turn around randomly. 

In other news the British Gas engineers are on strike. That explains a lot. Had a call the other day rescheduling our appointment to next week. Currently the heating is working for maybe a couple of hours a day, so mostly we are a little chilly. But now I know I don't mind so much. They voted to strike when management threatened to sack anyone not accepting new contracts with reduced pay and worse terms. With Brexit removing employment protections that the EU guaranteed we will no doubt see more of this kind of behaviour by companies and it must be resisted. 

Stay safe. Be kind. See you tomorrow.

Thursday, 21 January 2021

12 year blogiversary

 

Twelve years ago I started a blog (give or take a day or two), and posted on the second day about Obama's inauguration. I didn't manage to watch much yesterday, what with being at work, but apparently Bernie's mittens were the star of the show. Monkey has a new year resolution not to mention the previous incumbent again, and I will be joining her. 
In other good news we will be getting a pay rise some time soon, and what with the union reaching an agreement the share price is on the up. The gas man is coming back next week to fix the heating. Monkey got 68% for her Japanese crime essay and 78% in her Russian grammar exam so, although she has to get through another exam today we have stuff to be glad about. 
Stay safe. Be kind. See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, 19 January 2021

slightly smarter phone

 

I am finally joining the 21st century. My old Nokia lasted me over a decade before it finally gave out. It was routinely mocked at work if anyone saw me using it. I replaced it with another, but it was just a cheap knock-off of the original and the numbers rubbed off within a week and the case cracked shortly afterwards. Next I bought a Sony Ericsson cheap thing which I have had for a couple of years. The little toggle to move the cursor had become completely unreliable and the sound quality was so poor that I could not use it to actually talk to people.  I went to Back Market and looked for a reconditioned smarter phone (just randomly, but the person on the chat was helpful and they have a no quibble money back thing if you don't like it and 12 months warranty). Although it is technically a 'smart' phone I don't have it connected to the interweb (except at home it can connect to the wifi) so it's just for calls and texts ... and taking photos, I am excited to take photos of random stuff. 

Stay safe. Be kind. See you tomorrow (for the Biden/Harris inauguration).

Saturday, 16 January 2021

George

Reading the Grauniad on my lunch break the other day I was taken with a review of 'A Swim in a Pond in the Rain' by George Saunders, a literary analysis come writing advice book focussing on Russian short stories. The library has a couple of copies on order, so I am in the queue. Then coincidentally the literary diet comes up with this commencement speech by him from 2013:


It was preceded by Seamus Heaney's poem 'Mossbawn Sunlight', which is very much worth far more than the minute or so it will take you to read. 
Stay safe. Be kind. See you tomorrow.

Thursday, 14 January 2021

Tom

So, I very nearly beat myself up for completely forgetting to follow my literary diet, then Monkey told me off. We scanned down the list for today's offering but paused at the 10th: the wonderful Tom Lehrer:


and just because there's always another suggestion on Youtube:
Gallows humour about nuclear war was quite common for a while, I wonder whether he's written anything about climate change.
Stay safe. See you tomorrow.


Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Trumpet

I haven't posted in a week and look at all the shit that has happened. I kept intending to respond but was not sure I had much to add beyond WTF. America had an attempted insurrection, and apparently nearly half of Republicans think this is ok. WTF. And republican politicians love to suggest we should all forgive and forget, like it was nothing really to try and overthrow democracy. WTF. I mainly want to just tell them to suck it up, it's only four years, it'll be over before you know it and then you can try again. (How Biden Stole the Election) When Trump won it was terrible, and I don't even live in America, he's done lots of shit things but hopefully nothing irreversible (expect those separated children who have been lost), we survived and now it's over. (Time until Trump is out of Office.)

On the home front Royal Mail's senior management have just discovered that the pandemic is affecting the delivery of mail, releasing a list of a mere 28 areas affected by delays. I guess the chain of command is so long it's taken this long for them to hear. Strangely Manchester is not on the list. 


'Trumpet' by Jackie Kay, found in a charity shop ages ago, was an unexpected read. Joss Moody, a famous jazz trumpeter, has just died, and for everyone but his wife there is a surprise in store when it emerges that he was actually a woman. All the way through the book I continued to think of him as a man, his wife continues to refer to him as her husband, and even their confused and angry (adopted) son continues to refer to him as his father. The story follows the reactions of people around Joss, and also a journalist trying to sensationalise the story. She goads the people she talks to, trying to make them express horror or shock, but they all loved this person, and admired his music. What I took away from the story was how utterly irrelevant one's gender should be to how one's life is viewed. Joss the musician is the person who was admired and loved, his band mates dismiss the importance of the discovery with a side of 'so what?' Their son Colman takes the whole book to come around and realise that his father's love is not undermined by the revelation. He hardly takes the time to grieve he is so consumed by confusion. His wife on the other hand sinks into the abyss, and Jackie Kay writes about it so beautifully:

"When I go into our bedroom, the bed is just lying there. As if to say, it's only me again. I keep expecting that some miracle could happen, that I could just come up the stairs and find Joss in bed waiting for me. Each time I come into this room the emptiness of it punches me in the stomach. There is something so repetitive about grief. First the stupid hope, then the violence of remembering. The hope, then the carpet from under your feet. If Joss had lived and I had dies. If Joss had seen a doctor. If I had made Joss see a doctor. The same things spinning every day and night. Each night I'm afraid to sleep. I know Joss will find me. I know I will wake up and forget and then remember." (p.95-6)

"I cradle the phone. I say to the spirit that I know is still there: I'm going to phone our son. I'm going to phone our son. I push the numbers. My fingers feel barely strong enough to push the numbers. I get Colman's answerphone. I have always hated them. How can he have it on at a time like this when he knows his father is dying? I hold on waiting for the beep that everyone tells you to wait for. When it comes it frightens me, it is so loud and thoughtless. I say, Colman? Colman, are you there? And the real Colman is on the line in a flash. Your father died an hour or so ago, Colman, I say. Can you please come round?" (p.204)

What the story does not do is tell you what Joss Moody thought. He is already presenting as a man and playing the trumpet when he meets his wife (who's name I can't find, the chapters are in first person from different people), she falls in love with the human being he is, and continues to love him after he reveals the truth about himself. But the reader has no idea what led to the choice he made. Was it because he wanted to fit in with the jazz music world, or is that irrelevant. And although I was left curious about how Joss experienced his life I was left more with the impression of a powerful personality who inspired such a strong response from the people in his life.

Stay safe. See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

"I grow old ... I grow old ...

 I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled."


The Guardian today suggested T. S Eliot reading 'The Journey of the Magi', which is a wonderful poem, but once I was on the page I clicked on 'The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock', which we did for A level, and went on a lovely nostalgia trip. I particularly love the description of the fog at the beginning. It is funny how something from so long ago can feel so familiar. On searching his name I discovered that my teacher Mr Griffith-Jones died back in 2011. He was not your normal english teacher. We spent the first half of our A level course studying things that were not on the curriculum, because he genuinely loved literature and wanted us to care too, and to some extent I would say he influenced my ongoing reading life. He gave us a printed sheet of recommended reading, and in all likelihood I still have it somewhere.
 
Stay safe. See you tomorrow.

Monday, 4 January 2021

Part 3 - Lockdown with a Vengeance

 

Barely had the news finished than the internet was doing it's thing on the new lockdown situation. Tish's feed suggested Lockdown III The Virus Strikes Back, but we're Die Hard fans in our house. Monkey got her essay submitted so we opened my Christmas puzzle, and are cursing Tish (who chose it). 
It may look like this, at some point 
in the next few weeks, but not any time soon methinks:

Tish is back testing students, but Monkey is probably not back in the classroom for some time yet. There have been no in-person classes since March. Exams will be on zoom in the next few weeks. Having checked the opening times at work they have been cut somewhat so I will probably be back out on delivery.
My Guardian literary diet went somewhat downhill from Maya Angelou. I watched 'Clueless', and found it vacuous in the extreme, as you might expect, lacking any of the real character development you expect from Jane Austen. I watched the video of Kate Bush, but was never a fan. Today's suggestion of the Monologue Library was however quite interesting and enjoyable, though more about dramatic performance than literary content. Have finished reading 'Trumpet' by Jackie Kay, but it deserves a proper review, so will try and find time tomorrow.
Stay safe. See you tomorrow.




Friday, 1 January 2021

Rising

 

Today's offering from the Guardian's 31 days of literary nourishment is Maya Angelou reading her poem 'Still I Rise'. There are some poems that are so much more powerful when read aloud, and this is certainly one of them. I started the new year by buying some yarn for a baby blanket. And did you hear ... we left the EU, who knew?? Chatting to Claire this morning we agreed that although part of you wants it to be so crap just to prove how wrong the brexiteers were, we must mostly hope that the economic and social consequences will not be as bad as they appear. 
Monkey started tidying the front room so we could exercise, but got distracted by the after eight mints. We might make our gingerbread creation today, but only if we can find a moment in the hectic schedule. And we're not going to beat ourselves up about what we do or don't do. This year, if you manage nothing else, be kind to yourself. And read a little poetry (I will share more here too.)

Stay safe. See you tomorrow.

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