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Monday, 2 May 2016

What's New Pussy Cat

I haven't kept a diary but if I had I'm sure one fact would stand out. We spend more time talking to our cat than we do to each other.

I'm completely comfortable with that; honestly.

We have a ginger tom. He adopted us, or we adopted him about 7 years ago. He appeared at the end of the garden and after a while appeared in our house, on our laps and on our bed.

His "official" name is GingatheNinja: unofficially he's Bongo, Billy Bongo and Gingi.

He says very little. He doesn't have to as we do all the talking for him. His greeting on entering the kitchen is to wait to be stroked for about a minute. He says nothing. just rubs his face against your hand stares into your eyes and purrs deeply.

Verbal conversation is one way. "How are you doing?". " You don't like the biscuits - O.K. we'll try another brand the most expensive". " I know the neighbour's cat a pain. How are you feeling?"

You're on the loo: there's a scratch at the door and there he is on the bath staring at you as you complete your toilet. "What's up? Missing us? Want to play?" as you throw him a used toilet roll and he bats it back and shimmies his tail waiting for the next play. "O.K. I need to go to bed" and he  trots into the bedroom and up onto the bed.

He's on the bed and staring at you, eyes slightly closed and purring deeply. His fur is so deep that you can't stop stroking him and you whisper sweet nothings into his ears. We both comment on his wonderful profile and ask him to indulge us with a film star pose. He lifts up his right leg and licks his bum."Wonderful" we say. " You're such a clever cat."

On the bed he lies between us. He says nothing, simply purrs and purrs. The silence is awkward and we talk to him for ages. About the weather and how it affects his fur, the EU referendum and whether if cats could vote would we be in or out. But much of our conversation is simply telling him how beautiful he is : how privileged we are to have him chose us and what a joy he is. We also spend much time telling him not to scratch the carpet, the sofa, the stairs, my hand. It's like water of a duck's back: he stares, lifts his leg and starts grooming and guilt ridden we apologise.

Some people will say it's simply projection. He's a dumb puss with a little brain and we're just projecting a personality onto him. All I can say is "Try telling him that."

And frankly I don't care. Sharing our house with this sentient being is a joy. He is a real presence, a personality that is so bound up in our day to day life it's painful. We look forward to seeing him at the backroom window banging on the glass to be let in. Sitting at the top of the stairs after midnight as you ask him how he passed his day. As he chases after a pair of tights and climbs onto the table and stares out of the window. You try to strike up a conversation.

"What are you thinking about old boy?"

And he looks at you with those soft green eyes. " Wouldn't you like to know"  

Sunday, 24 April 2016

"The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill"

Not sure if it's rising up or plunging down
There's been a lot of talk this week about mortality: well, there's been quite a bit of it around. What with Victoria Wood and Prince falling off their perches, it has those of us of a certain age looking over our shoulders checking whether the Grim Reaper is hot on our heels. He wasn't, but then he wears soft leather soles and a Harry Potter cloak of invisibility: he's nobody's fool.

And this week it was the Queen's 90th birthday. "The Prince is Dead, Long Live the Queen."

I'm spending this weekend in Cornwall with friends who, in November, moved out of our road in Walthamstow to live the quiet life in Poundstock six miles from Bude. Stannah Stairlifts don't do much business in Cornwall since almost every property is a bungalow. I don't like them: although rationally there's nothing wrong with them. Especially down here where everyone is living on an acre plot. You don't need to build up: just out.

I think my dislike of single storied buildings originated from my childhood when we lived in one at the extremity of the then small village of Hangleton, outside Hove in Sussex. Behind our enormous back garden stretched the South Downs. From the front garden you had an uninterrupted view of Shoreham Harbour and the English Channel beyond. It is nothing like that now. It was as I was climbing down the steps (I could have been no more than four or five) leading from the bungalow's front door that I took quite a tumble...and ended up in hospital with meningitis. I'm sure the fall didn't help but I don't think it can be blamed for my inflamed brain. However, I have always linked an extremely dangerous illness and a long hospital stay on those steps and by association: bungalows.

Writing this I recall that my first serious girlfriend "Rosalind" had moved with her parents from a sensible two storey house in Shoreham to a newly built bungalow in Ovingdean just outside Brighton, on a 1960's estate: bare, bald and boring. I turned down a place at King's College, London because of her: except my parents, on learning I'd told the college I'd rather stay in Brighton with Ros and go to Brighton College of Technology, marched me up to London to appear before the Dean of the Science Faculty to explain why I had misguidedly turned down such a valuable opportunity to study at one of English finest colleges.

My romance with Ros, survived just one term as she hitched up with a local policeman shortly thereafter and I received a "Dear John" brush off delivered by her best friend. Rosalind being too cut up to tell me directly.

Here I am sitting in the conservatory looking out over a field of a back garden onto a hillside full of sheep and between the gap, I can glimpse the sea. The rooks are massing on the hill, no doubt having spied a dead or dying lamb, as the clouds amble majestically across a blue sky. It  is deadly quiet and, at night, war time black.
The parish church of St Winwaloe and full graveyard

Last night we went to the local Gildhouse built in the reign of Henry VIII and the focus of the small village of Poundstock.
The Gildhouse (recipient of EU funding)

It sits at the bottom of a valley next to an ancient church and its overflowing cemetery   - a new one was opened for business in 1994. There is a third, which is attached to the old Methodist Chapel; now a lovely home with the cemetery, which is still in use, as the back garden with quite a unique collection of garden ornaments. Three cemeteries in a village of 900 souls: a case of overkill to my mind.
The old chapel

Walking back last night in the dark you could not see your hand in front of your face. The sky was crystal clear and the stars were brilliant even though there was a majestic full moon low in the sky. And not even the sound of a barking fox or the hoot of an owl to bother the silence. It was magical.

This morning we went to the beach at Dunmouth. Spectacular rock formations and stratification. Imagine seeing that and still believing the earth was formed less than ten thousand years ago. You could almost feel the earth's crust buckling under enormous forces folding the rocks as if they were paper. In one place you could see the rocks rising skywards and then a little way along they plunged back down into the subterranean depths. Hugely impressive.

I'm doing very little, busying myself being as restful as I can be. Later an evening meal at a local restaurant, a deep, deep sleep. Tomorrow, up early and a car ride to Bodmin Parkway - such romance -  a train journey back to Paddington and dear old London town.

P.S. The missus is at home in Walthamstow looking after our very old cat. She'll have the opportunity to visit Chris and Greg in the near future and enjoy, as I have, a right royal Cornish welcome.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Dreaming Spires and Morse

Asmolean guides being instructed
I went to Oxford this weekend: an educational visit - is there any  other to Matthew Arnold's town of dreaming spires? Hugely inspiring in a episodic way!

The thing is I love Morse...and Lewis. Frankly to my mind they are the best thing about this nondescript town on the Thames. Strip away the colleges of learning and ...privilege and you have a bog standard middle sized town with a few shops and loads of cafes. It's a middle class shabby town. By that I mean if you have the money you'll happily pay over three quarters of a million for a two up two down that would have housed a family of nine a hundred and fifty years ago. Except now it's been knocked through with light wells.

Oxford's fire service on duty
O.K.enough of social history. My weekend allowed me 3 hours away from rigorous intellectual tumult. After my ham and cheese baguette I was free to explore all that Oxford had to offer. Plugging in "Morse" into Google Maps I found myself directed to at least 20 pubs in the area.  I
took the safe option and headed for the Randolph which is almost opposite the Ashmolean Museum.

OK, who has nicked my ice cornetto
If you go to Oxford you must visit the Ashmolean. Which is the problem. I went there on Saturday afternoon. It was packed with  mums and dads with buggies and kids strapped to  their chests and zillions of loud foreign students who walked around looking at their fucking iPhones.

I paid my respects to the Hittites, some tribe in Syria and the Greeks and left to sample the retail experience of Oxford.

What Oxford City Council don't realise is that they don't have a retail centre. They have a disaster area. It is bleak, boring and totally naff. No wonder it's gown and town. Yet thousands of suckers spend hours driving into Oxford and trying to park to shop in...Primark, Carphone Warehouse and Debenhams.
This is how Oxford's junior doctors protest

Debenhams exemplifies what is wrong with UK High Streets. It's a shell into which loads of disparate franchises scrap for that last dollar. It is un-coordinated, tacky and worst of all, boring. Frankly it's the arse end of retail. The sooner D's is killed off,along with BhS, the better we all will be.

I left Oxford's High Street totally deflated. The side streets were no better. Desperate chic, unique offerings trying to convince passing trade that they were worth stopping by and being robbed. A boutique tailor in a fairly grotty sixties side street expected (no demanded) that I spend £1,500 on a suit. I think not.

Hundreds of cafes offering an infinite perm of coffee - hell is a Costa/Starbucks/ that little place that roasts beans the poor civet shat out.

The Spice Girls reform in Oxford

Something was happening while I was in Oxford. There were loads of Morris Dancers. I have no objection to men dressing up in silly costumes. I draw the line at men ( and women) having cow bells strapped to their legs. It is totally unnatural and possibly banned by the Oxford Conservative Party.

They did, however, add some welcomed colour to what would otherwise have been an extremely depressing 3 hrs until the next lecture on the Wonders of Mercury -  fascinating.

I display, without comment, as sample of Oxford life as displayed by the Morris Dancing community.

I'm sorry Endeavour...