Into the grossness

There are times when I really, really wish I had a gas mask at home. Something that would cover my nose and mouth, allowing me to happily carry out housework tasks without having to smell them. Or taste them. Wouldn’t that be handy?

Okay, I can breathe through my mouth which affectively shuts off the nose but then you can sort of taste the foul odours of the day.

Speaking of sense deprivation…has anyone carried out researched into bluetooth? I have no idea how it works but it seems to me that sending some sort of signal directly at your head should be tested a bit before wholesale adoption.

A simple Internet search reveals that there are two, very vocal, sides.

Like a good scientist, I quite like to read opinions based on cited articles by reputable people. I also distrust opinions that are paid for by the industry that is responsible for selling it. The Marlborough Man springs to mind. And the adoption of vaping without any research.

Still, whatever the health risks, I find it extraordinary that so many humans are happily letting their devices probably scramble their brains. This is extremely bizarre. Even if Apple insists that its users do it.

It makes me think about how often we are prepared, as a species, to just block out the world by blocking up our senses. Sometimes permanently.

Like, what is it with tasteless food on your tongue? We have an amazing sense of taste and yet millions of people devour tonnes of tasteless food daily. I find that quite odd as well. (Obviously I’m talking about the first world here. I understand that there are people on the planet who have no choice.)

And while I’m asking, what is it with people wearing noise cancelling headphones and staring at their phone while they walk along? That’s great. Reduce your hearing and your sight at the same time. If we look at our need for security before we consider anything else, this sort of thing says we are far too secure.

Back to today. I really wanted to remove my sense of smell for a bit.

Our kitchen sink has started draining really slowly and no amount of drain unblocking chemicals have made any difference. Today I decided I had to start removing pipes.

We have twin sinks in the kitchen and one was draining perfectly fine which meant it was easy to find out where the problem was. It was in the first bit. The bit betwixt plug hole and U-bend. I sat on the floor and started emptying the under sink cupboard.

This is always a journey of discovery. Being an archaeologist, this kind of exercise always excites me. Things from the long ago past appear for the first time in centuries. It’s always extraordinary. Who knew we had furniture polish? Or a packet of descaler?

Anyway, cupboard cleared, I started dismantling the pipes. That’s when the Slimy Black Ooze of Satan made its presence felt. I don’t know what the infamous Westminster fat berg smelled like but if it was anything like this evil sludge then I feel really sorry for anyone smelling it.

I was thankful for my black, heavy duty rubber gloves as I attacked the gunge with various kitchen implements (and some not usually found in the kitchen). It was not coming quietly. It was foulness personified. I was at it for a couple of hours. The blowtorch helped.

Eventually, all was removed and a pleasant citrus scent pervaded the kitchen. Afterwards I buried my nose in half a lemon.

And it was raining all day.

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What's the point of umbrellas?

Storm Brendan appeared to have blown himself out. This morning, while grey, was dry and not windy at all. This is a complete change to the last few days. Not that the park is particularly dry. Splodgy would be closer to describing it.

This is the thing with an aquifer. It’s all well and good while the water seeps through but when the tank is full, the ground becomes saturated and the top layers turn to mud. Walking produces squelching. Shoes get sodden.

Of course this will all dry up as the aquifer is emptied but this time of year walking through the park is like treading on a grotty sponge.

Apart from a full aquifer, another result of storms like Brendan can be fallen trees. It’s perfectly natural and the result of wind and rain but when a tree, that’s been a feature of your landscape for years falls over, the world seems that little bit more fragile.

The sight above greeted me on my way back from the shops this morning. A lady I see most days was standing regarding it. I asked her what she’d done. She laughed then suggested I walk up Heart Attack Hill because it was very muddy all around the fallen tree. I laughed in turn then headed back down to the street.

I haven’t walked up Heart Attack Hill since we moved away from Folly Hill and I don’t intend to start again any time soon.

It was while walking along the street towards the next park entrance that I noticed a ruined umbrella lying in the gutter. It was the third one I’d seen since leaving the house. The wind and rain had rendered it useless. I wondered, not for the first time, why people bother with them.

The day brightened up considerably and, by lunch time, it was nice enough to take the girls for a walk. Emma wasn’t best pleased being on the lead (she’s still in season) but Freya was very happy running around on her own. I did give Emma a bit of freedom but was very careful to keep her within sight.

In fact, the rest of the day was positively benign. The birds were singing, the sun was shining and, had the temperature risen above 10°, it could have been spring.

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One of Puccini's lesser known works

I find it difficult having favourites. My favourite movie is, in fact, five movies. My favourite book is probably about ten. If I had to choose a favourite city, it would most likely be the one I’m in. And, likewise, my favourite artist is Caravaggio along with a whole bunch of others.

Liking Caravaggio as I do puts me solidly in the Renaissance loving camp. And it’s true. I do love most Renaissance art. I like the fact that it honours the classic but enhances it with more life and creates a new style by utilising the ancient.

All of that aside, I also love Expressionism. There’s an honesty in the way it brings the brutality of man’s inhumanity to the fore. For me, it paints vivid pictures of the horror that is war.

The reason I’m writing about art styles is because tonight I went and saw Wozzeck in a (not) live stream from the New York Met.

The black smudge is from my gloves

The Malting’s brochure advertised it as being a light opera by Puccini sung in Italian. I think the group of people sitting behind me may have suddenly realised it wasn’t after about ten minutes of heavy German singing. They all up sticks and left. Which decimated the already small audience somewhat.

Wozzeck is an operatic version of a drama called Woyzeck almost written by German playwright Georg Büchner. Georg died before he could complete it back in 1830. Alban Berg, an Austrian composer, started adapting the drama into an opera but was interrupted by the First World War.

He went off and fought. He survived and completed the opera. His experiences during the war affected his interpretation making it more poignant and tragic. Because of them, it is extremely powerful.

Most people agree that Wozzeck is actually avante garde in style, and that may be, however when the production is designed by the amazing William Kentridge, it becomes a massive Expressionist canvas full of life, death and dark motifs marching back and forth across the stage. It becomes mesmerising.

Alban Berg also composed Lulu, another streamed Met production I saw (in 2015) designed by Kentridge in an Expressionist style. I also saw an exhibition of Kentridge’s work at the Whitechapel Gallery back in 2017. I really like his work.

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed the opera although, be warned, there’s no pretty songs or tragic arias. It’s all a bit tonal as if the performers were just singing the words of a play. That sounds awful but it is far from that.

And speaking of the performers…Peter Mattei was an utterly convincing Wozzeck while Elza van den Heever as his ‘common law wife’, Marie was equally superb. The rest of the cast (there seemed to be thousands at the curtain call) were equally excellent. In fact, this opera is very much an ensemble piece with everyone playing some sort of essential part.

Two of the cast were called on to operate Marie’s son, who was a puppet. Their faces were devoid of emotion while they were playing the boy. It was a great lesson in not stealing focus. A lot of actors could learn from it.

The end of the opera is on the words ‘Hop, hop. Hop, hop.’ Children singing off-stage announce that Marie’s body has been found. Her son is playing but then, eventually, runs off to join them. This was particularly chilling.

Possibly as chilling as the weather outside. I’d walked through King Lear like storms to get to the Maltings, splashed by inconsiderate racing drivers and driving rain alike. I think it must have been the tail end of Storm Brendan.

Things had improved a bit by the time I headed for home though it didn’t stop me being somewhat wet.

Wet, wet, wet

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News not fit to print

I returned to the gym this morning. It’s the first time since December 3 last year. Because of Paris, Bath, Florence and gout, I’ve been waiting. And this morning the wait was over. I reckon I might ache tomorrow.

One of the few things I dislike about the gym is how the TV upstairs is stuck on ITV. This means, when I use the lat pull down and the row machine, I am unwillingly subjected to the grinning ape that is Piers Morgan. That wouldn’t be quite so bad if it wasn’t for the continually running subtitles.

And this morning things were worse than normal on ITV.

Morgan has a problem with Meghan Markle. I don’t know what it is. Some people claim it’s because she turned him down. Others say it’s because he’s a racist. There is another group who claims he’s just a really, really unpleasant man who loves tapping phones.

Personally, I don’t care, I just wish I didn’t have to look at his face every morning.

Speaking of Meghan, most of the day she was the top of the news bulletins. Everywhere. I kept switching radio stations but to no avail.

The royal family means next to nothing to me. Historically it is all very interesting but in 2020 it’s merely a tourist attraction and a way to launch big ships. People want to hang onto it because it gives them a sense of belonging, I suppose. And identity? I don’t know.

What I do know is that all day today, the fact that Meghan Markle married Prince Harry was the most important news. It was more important than the unreleased Russian report, the uninvestigated Jennifer Arcuri allegations against the PM, a volcano in the Philippines, the continuing fires in Australia, riots in Iran, Trump acting like a crazy person and Storm Brendan hitting the UK.

And that’s just the bad news. What about the good news?

Like Patsy. She is a 6 year old working dog in Australia. She managed to herd 220 sheep to safety, saving them from an approaching bushfire. Meanwhile, while her owner used his tractor and a water pump to fend off the flames.

Or like 17 year old Aiden Jackson of Widnes, England. He’s a gamer who was happily playing away online with one of his digital chums in Texas when he suddenly had a seizure. His parents were watching TV downstairs, unaware of what was happening. His Texan friend, Dia, thought something was wrong and rang the emergency services explaining the situation. An ambulance turned up at Aiden’s house and helped him.

There’s plenty of news (happy or bad) that is way more interesting than family squabbles.

Just before Storm Brendan struck

I can only assume that the print media was also all over Meghan and Harry but, given I haven’t read a national newspaper in many years, I wouldn’t know. Or care.

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Before drifting off to sleep I generally read a few pages. To be truthful I usually only manage one. Except when I have an early night and can get through a chapter.

The books I tend to read before sleep are ones about maritime disasters. While they may not fill me with glee just before sleep, they do provide a certain levelling of life experience.

Let me explain.

I have just finished reading an book called Death in the Baltic by Cathryn Prince. It concerns the sinking of a German ex-liner called the MV Wilhelm Gustloff. She was torpedoed by a Russian submarine on 30 January 1945 as she set off to ferry (mostly) civilians to safety.

Approximately 9,400 people died when Submarine M13 fired three torpedoes into the hull of the ship. ‘Approximately’ is rather chilling when you think of them as individuals.

This happened during a time when the Russian army was in the ascendency in the Baltic area and the Germans were busy evacuating everyone they could. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced, walking across frozen landscapes trying to reach a safe haven ahead of the Russians. Many of them headed for the coast where MV Wilhelm Gustloff was moored, acting as a submarine training school for the German navy. These were ordinary, every day people.

When the Germans were in Russia they were accused of enacting many atrocities against the Russian civilian population so, when the Russians attacked back, they figured they’d do the same in some sort of revenge for the folks back home.

It’s one thing to start punishing uninvolved civilians for something their government and armed forces did but it’s quite another to punish innocent families who were only German for a bit. The thing was, these ‘German’ civilians were actually pawns in a political game of border changes.

These civilians were from such places as Prussia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Estonia, Croatia, etc. They didn’t vote for Hitler. They didn’t want the Nazis in control of them. The Germans conquered these countries and simply expanded their borders like a pirate stealing an entire ship with a full crew. It’s not like they had much choice.

Imagine: a whole bunch of Nazi soldiers come through your Latvian town and tell you that you are now German and must act like one. Then, as the war turns and the Germans start to retreat, the Russians turn up and tell you you’re now part of the USSR. It’s not like it’s simply a change of postal systems.

However, before they tell you that you are now a part of the glorious communist community, they rape and pillage and kill tens of thousands of you. They did it because the Germans, while beating the Russians, raped and pillaged and killed tens of thousands of civilians before telling them they were now Germans.

It makes me wonder why a handful of (usually) men decide the fates of millions because they think they’re right. Hitler was one man who had a particularly evil bunch of henchmen. They won a vote and then decided they could do whatever they wanted. They knew they could justify it because they had a ‘mandate from the people.’

As the German borders expanded so the population in their control increased this mandate. The handful of psychos at the top had more people ‘on their side’. And then, so did the Russians. This means a whole lot of civilians became involved in something that was not of their doing or choice.

I realise that the whole concept of Total War means anyone is a target but I can’t see how it’s in any way fair or right. In fact, I rather like the idea that any leader of a country who feels he should go to war with another should have to go into a cage and fight the leader of the other country. And they can’t use so-called champions, either.

Imagine Donald Trump in a cage with Kim Jong-un in a fight to the death, winner takes all, Bare Knuckle Extravaganza. Now that would be a reality TV programme I’d watch.

MV Wilhelm Gustloff. Scan of postcard from

I know it’ll never happen while we are stuck in this patriarchal world but it makes for some nice dreams.

By the way, originally, the MV Wilhelm Gustloff was going to be called the MV Adolf Hitler. That would have made a great claim by the Russian submarine captain. He could have boasted about how he’d shot Adolf Hitler three times.

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Not much happened today

Mirinda returned to guitar class today. She then had her usual Holly Bush brunch before coming home and working on her next blog post. I haven’t talked much about her blog because it’s to do with her research and work.

That’s not to say that I don’t think it’s brilliant. Of course I do. But the connection between our two blogs is a bit hazy.

In fact, quite a bit of time this afternoon was spent working out how to embed something in her blog. It was a bit of a learning curve for me as well. Always a good thing.

I, of course, didn’t have guitar and set off, trolley trundling behind me, to shop. I visited Starbucks (it being a Saturday) then headed for Waitrose to shop for both days.

Mirinda is going to be spending all week at the flat so I gave her a choice of dinners. She wanted Lo-Carb Taco Night for tonight and Pork with Green Butter for Sunday roast. This means more stuff than I can easily carry so the trolley was employed.

Actually, I get a lot of comments about my trolley. Positive comments that is.

Wicker trolley

I bought it years ago following a rather unfortunate accident with a plastic bag which precipitated the need to buy an emergency hand truck to transport my shopping home.

(I’ve tried to find the original posts – for shopping incident and trolley purchase – but have had no luck. They are there somewhere.)

The hand truck sits in the laundry and is very handy for moving heavy pots around the terrace. It wasn’t a waste but as a shopping trolley it is somewhat inadequate.

Foldable hand truck

Mirinda thought the idea of a trolley was excellent but it had to be a better one than the boring ordinary rectangular ones. I was happy to investigate something a bit more attractive.

I found the wicker trolley in Cornwall via a website. It has proven to be a boon for big shops and chat starting. It’s been a boon for ages.

Speaking of ages…I noticed today that it was exactly two years ago that I first met Kirsty at Surrey History Centre. It’s odd how time works sometimes. It feels like I’ve known her a lot longer than two years. Mind you, that might be because of Kirsty Miller on The Archers. I’ve definitely known her for much longer than two years. And they are easily confused.

Annabelle Dowler as Kirsty Miller. Image from BBC Archers website
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Need a loo?

Being a Friday and with the gradual return to life in the Normal Lane, I spent most of it researching soldiers. Mirinda, also grasping the mettle of work, spent most of the day on the phone. She has a big week coming up so she took full advantage of home comforts. She also talked her throat dry.

Given it was a day swamped in the ordinary, there’s not a lot to include in this post however, we did have an interesting delivery in our street first thing.

It was at 07:00 and still dark. I was about to leave for the shops, putting my fleece and gloves on, when I looked out the side window. There, being incredibly quiet, was a chap delivering a porta-loo.

A considerate delivery

I thought Mr & Mrs Sandals had finished with their bathroom but, it seems, that’s not the case. (I was tempted to crop out the street light in the photo above but I thought it looked moon-like, giving the scene a sort of ethereal look.)

Apart from not thinking about the Harry and Meghan issue, that was pretty much it for today. Obviously I had the usual company.

I think she looks oddly intelligent in the photo above. This is not the usual situation for Freya. Emma, on the other hand, was still moping around, looking utterly miserable.

She has at least another week of her season before she snaps out of this morose phase. Both of us will be very glad when she does.

In passing, I see that Sydney has responded to their fool of a federal government by having a march through the city. While it’s always good to let your government know how you feel I can’t help but be a bit cynical about how effective this kind of thing is, particularly given how much change was affected here in London with the marches.

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Knitting pouches for koalas

It was a glorious morning today. This was reversed in the early afternoon with torrential rain but, for the pre-lunch part of the day, it was gorgeous.

In fact, it was so gorgeous that Mirinda took the girls for an early walk. Given the afternoon rain, this was a very good idea. The thing is, she didn’t tell me.

I was in my office talking to mum and, after hanging up, I went inside to be greeted by…no-one. The house was empty. The door to the library was open and was also empty. Max wasn’t in the drive. Obviously they’d gone for a walk.

It was about this time that I realised I had a text message telling me they’d gone for a walk. I replied that I was heading out for the Talking Newspaper.

Gorgeous morning

And what fun we had. My readers were Dame Elizabeth, Christine and David S. Apart from poor David being a bit poorly, the rest of us had a ball. I think Dame E has had her hearing aid fixed because she could hear everything. For a change. She can be very funny.

One story that had us all in stitches (pun intended) was about a charity that is knitting stuff for the Australian wildlife. Christine informed us that this charity was making ‘pouches for koalas’. When she asked me about it I told her (and the listeners) that koalas used them to keep their small change in.

I have since discovered that it is an international thing and it’s actually pouches for joeys and mittens for koalas…which makes a lot more sense. Not that that was the only odd thing in the paper this week. For instance, is it just me or does this photo look like a kid putting her head through a toilet seat?

Ignore the cross through it. That’s my editing.

The whole session was gloriously funny and I can only hope there’ll be no complaints given it was for Alton and Bordon. There was a big editing issue when I decided to choke uncontrollably halfway through the list of 42 deaths but otherwise it was excellent.

Not so excellent (for me) was the unexpected news that Victoria is leaving Starbucks. She’s leaving to work at Treloars in Alton. A ‘real job’ as I called it then hastily corrected myself. It made me think about how many baristas I’ve seen come and go through the years and how you just expect them to always be there.

It made me rather sad. That’s possibly why I popped into the Plough on the way home for a pint of Whitstable.

I’ve never been to the Plough before. It’s a lovely pub. I was going to pop into the Jolly Sailor but it was closed. Their loss was the Ploughs gain.

Prick of the Week

It seems that every time I walk to the Talking Newspaper studio some one parks half on the footpath and half on the road. This causes inconvenience to everyone, something I think must be intentional. Therefore I have decided to include this new section.

And here is this week’s prick.

The van not the pedestrian

It’s funny how van drivers think that putting their hazard lights on makes it okay. The thing is, the cars can’t pass and it’s difficult for pedestrians. Gallagher doesn’t care about either. Clearly.

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Unexpected Wednesday roast

Today my cake was ready to be sliced and devoured. Well, a wedge of it anyway. It’s far too dense for more than a slice to be devoured at any single sitting. Actually, I released it a bit early as the icing wasn’t quite hard enough. But the temptation of it sitting on the kitchen counter was too great. So it was dished up accordingly.

Mmm artistically challenged Christmas cake

Not only Christmas cake was eaten out of time tonight. I also roasted a chicken. It seems that I am bucking a very old tradition started around the time of Henry VII. The Sunday Roast has been a ‘thing’ since at least 1485.

I admit it was unprecedented. The only thing I can say in my defence is that I just fancied a roast chicken for dinner. And I have it on good authority that Henry preferred Yorkshire pudding with his roast beef.

Speaking of fat enhanced batter, I didn’t make any of the traditional trimmings. In fact, I coated it in Persian herbs and spices and stuffed it with little lemons so it wasn’t really a traditional roast.

To really justify it, what I actually did was use an oven to cook a chicken and served it with spring greens, courgette and some sautéed carrot. So, basically, not a roast. As such.

Apart from shopping and working on a few SGW soldiers, I did housework. Now that my right leg has finally returned to its normal state of abnormality, I can climb the ladder to the loft as well go up and down the stairs. So the house is gradually returning to normal.

Not so poor Emma who has the permanent woebegone look of a cockerpoo in season plastered over her face.

“Give me chocolate!”

Not only does she have the indignity of having towels slid under her trouser area at any given moment but she also has to be picked up whenever other dogs approach. She’s not a happy puppy at the moment.

Freya, on the other hand, is her normal, cheerful, fearful self.

The Hot Border, where Freya is standing, has been topped with the soil removed from the soon to be raised bed which is why it looks fresh.

And that was yet another mild winter’s day in Farnham.

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When did they stop being stations?

Three older ladies boarded the train with me this morning. They were all dolled up in their finery as if they were off to the theatre. Or a WI luncheon. Or the opening of a new art gallery. Where ever they were going they were chattering excitedly as they decided where to sit.

They paused at a double set of three seats across the aisle from me. Their chattering took a decidedly disapproving tone as they surveyed the seats. Every second one was dirty.

They didn’t want to sit in dirt and so they moved across the aisle and sat in another double set of three seats in front of me. And so the excited chattering was replaced by notes of disapproval.

Disgusting!” was one comment. “Probably kids,” was another. “You’d think their parents would teach them to keep their feet on the floor,” was greeted with universal approval.

They left the train at Woking and quiet accompanied me the rest of the way to the flat.

I was heading to Canary Wharf in order to finish my cleaning and tidying following the decorators. Subsequently, I sat in a few trains. I also saw a few feet on seats. None of them belonged to kids.

The worst offender was an Australian woman in her forties whose companion kept moving her feet onto his lap in order to lessen the seat contact. She would then move them back.

Having finished at the flat I went home via the Schuh shoe shop. It was here, many years ago, that I bought the best runners I’ve ever bought. I’m sure there’s a blog post about it. How the sales woman convinced me the New Balance 574 style was the best for wide feet. And she was 100% correct.

I noticed in the window that they had a pair of style 574 runners with my name on them so I entered and approached a sales man asking for a pair in anything but black. He checked his stock device and declared he had an olive pair in my size. I told him I’d have them. He indicated his own 574 clad feet and declared it was an excellent choice.

I walked in with one pair and walked out with two. Even given the wear, I think it’s quite difficult to pick the older pair.

I was standing at Waterloo waiting for a platform when I noticed something odd. It wasn’t my shoes. I don’t know if this is a new thing because I can’t say I’ve noticed it before but, for some reason, the word ‘station’ seems to have become inadequate for explaining where trains stop.

Rather than announcing that some ‘stations have short platforms’ the new term seems to be ‘calling points’. Why? Given the announcement is regarding places where passengers can alight the train I would have thought this was exclusively stations.

Perhaps it’s the whole pomposity thing that South Western Railways seems to imbue its guards with. The way they say ‘myself’ when there’s nothing wrong with ‘me’ or using ‘whilst’ like some Medieval illuminated manuscript creator.

Whatever the explanation, it must be confusing to a lot of people who know what a station is and are now wondering what ‘calling point’ they need to alight from.

And people accuse lawyers of not using Plain English.

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