OUT AND ABOUT AGAIN AND WISHING I COULD BE INVISIBLE

MOLESEY

We revisited an old haunt for a takeaway.  It’s another Italian restaurant and has been closed for many weeks, so it was lovely to see the owner back there again.  He said it was “crazy-weird” how he had had to close down so suddenly, but that there had been some positives to be had from lockdown; not least spending more time with his wife and young daughter. Some things are more important than money, he said. We agreed and I said my biggest positive was having the OH around all the time (though he may not entirely agree with this sentiment).

COBHAM

On the way to our favourite supermarket, we spotted a policeman taking down the numbers of cars parked alongside the main road. It seemed a bit of a fruitless thing to do. He would have been better off patrolling the heaving riverbank and green spaces in our area. Someone complained on our local facebook group about the number of people not social distancing. They said a police car had pulled in to one of the car parks near the river, looked at the crowds of people there and driven straight back out again!  Not very reassuring. However, it could simply be that there just aren’t enough police around to deal with all the crowds.

In Waitrose, I overheard one assistant saying to another: “My hayfever’s really bad atm.” Mine is, too, love. I expect a lot of people are suffering with it at the moment.  We’ve had no real rain for weeks, now, to tamp everything down. Local honey, as supplied by the beekeepers’ association nearby, helps a bit and I’m always recommending it.

The young assistant busily restocking the shelves looked blank when I asked him where the fish paste was. He asked if I’d bought it from them before, and could I give him a brand name to look up? Of course, my mind went completely blank at that point. I probably looked like a fish myself, as I stared at him, gaping, while waiting for the few remaining cells in my brain to kick in and supply the answer. Finally, I remembered two names and he was able to locate them for me. “Now you know what they are!” I said cheerily, barely believing he’d never heard of the stuff. It’s delicious on hot buttery toast, of course, or try Jack Monroe’s cheap and cheerful fish-paste-and-pasta dish some time. It’s yum. Anyway. It reminded me of the time, in Wickes, when the OH asked for putty and the young and very bored female assistant said: “What’s putty?”

I saw a post on Twitter recently, from someone in the music business, who said his mind always goes blank whenever anyone asks him what music he enjoys listening to at home.

Something similar used to happen to me, when I was working in the fiction department on my old magazine. People would ask me what I was reading, and what could I recommend? The best I came up with on the spot was: “Maeve Binchy.” Now, as it happens, I’m a fan of her work and would most certainly recommend her books – Evening Class and The Glass Lake being my top two favourites – but I just wish I could have come up with a few more names at the time! And please don’t ask me now, either. I’ve barely glanced at any fiction in the (almost) three years since I left my job. I can only dip in and out of non-fiction titles at the moment. Although, since lockdown began, I haven’t been able to do even that. I’m struggling to look at magazines, as well. So unlike me, a lifelong book and magazine addict! It hasn’t stopped me compiling a list of books I’ll be buying just as soon as I can get into my nearest bookshop, however.

If you’re interested, I usually tell people that Gone With The Wind is my favourite novel of all time. It has everything going on and, when I first read it around forty years ago, I stayed up until three am to finish it. It also has the best opening line – look it up.

Well, I say it has everything – it doesn’t have vampires. They may not have been around back in those days, or, if they were, they probably liked to keep themselves to themselves more than they do now. You can’t leave the house without tripping over vampires, these days, it would seem – or certainly judging from the selection of stories I’ve just read and reviewed for a prestigious annual award for new writers.

My theory is that the young writers whose stories I was reading (16-21 years) need to feel they have some sort of special power over a world that increasingly appears frightening and out of control; run by older people who, worryingly, seem as clueless as the rest. I’m scared for the world, as well, but I’m not a fresh-faced teenager with most of my life ahead of me. Most of mine is behind me, now, damnit.

The young writers had created new worlds and given themselves special powers in order to survive. It made for pretty bleak reading, in some cases, but at least it was of their own making and, like I said, they had some control over events. Even stories set in the past included characters with special powers. I’m sure we’ve all wished we had those, at times! Mine would be invisibility and teleportation. Together. Think of the fun I could have! Though I ought to try being a bit more imaginative – so far, I’ve only made it back to my old office, where I’ve been rifling through all the lovely freebie books that come in for review every day. How I miss those!

Talking of books, I noticed there were far fewer than normal on sale in the supermarket. They don’t have a very large selection at the best of times, though they really should, I think, but it was noticeable how few they had left on this occasion – unless they simply aren’t reordering any for the time being? Whatever, I’m pleased people are still buying “real” books.

The young girl at the till I chose was dreamily staring into space. In fact, at that time, there were several empty tills and I hesitated before disturbing her. She looked quite happy to be left alone.  I said to her: “It’s bliss, shopping like this. I don’t even mind the queues outside. Do you find it boring, though, not being so busy?” She replied: “Not really. I like to daydream and can keep myself entertained.” Sweet. I suppose they’re not allowed to look at their phones.

On my way out, I unthinkingly started to put my trolley back with all the others, only to be politely chided for doing so. It had to be cleaned first. Of course! They have an impressive system in place. Wishing I could be invisible, I apologised and scuttled off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NOWHERE

Let me explain: not quite nowhere, but we didn’t actually get out of the car. We had decided to go to a garden centre, but out of the three we tried, one was still closed and two had long queues. The man at the gate of one of them said helpfully: “There’s only a 20-25 minute wait, today. Much better than it has been.” It was hot and sunny and neither of us do hot and sunny very well, plus this was taking place in the OH’s lunch break, and he had to get back to his computer within the hour.  A test email had already been sent round that morning to all staff from the office manager; to check they weren’t sunbathing in the park, we presumed.

Prior to going out, my hairdresser rang me and my first words to her were: “Yes please!” She laughed and said, “Sorry, I’m just ringing for a chat and to see how you are.” She lives in Kent, very near to one of our favourite garden centres, which was featured on the news the other day, but she hasn’t tried to go there yet.  She said she’d wait for a while longer. I asked her how her garden was looking. “Glorious,” was her reply.

Their grass wasn’t looking too healthy, though, so they splashed out and turfed the whole lot. Ours is awful at the moment, but looks slightly less awful when I’ve cut it, which I like to do. In fact, with so little rain recently, it’s turning a pleasing shade of brown, which I love, as it reminds me of the ploughed fields I used to see from my bedroom window as a child growing up in a village. When we all had that roasting-hot summer a couple of years ago, the grass stayed brown and close-cropped and I didn’t have to cut it for several months.  Others are so particular about their lawns, wasting precious water with sprinklers on day and night, but it all grows back in the end, so why bother? In any case, the plants need it more than the grass.

I digress. The salon won’t be open until July at the earliest, my hairdresser told me. I said I’d just have to wait, then. I’m not too bothered about my hair growing out. I was always a long-haired girl. It just means my curls will get pulled out with the weight, but it will be interesting to see what it ends up like, and as long as I have the OH to help me colour it, I don’t mind. She said she misses the chat at the salon. Her partner, a salesman, is now involved in distributing masks and one of her sons is delivering for Amazon, while the other is buying and selling on eBay.  Diversifying at its finest!

Talking of turf, on our way out to find a garden centre, we passed our local rose nursery, run by a delightfully bohemian and slightly eccentric couple.  It looked pleasantly busy in there, which is good, as they have been there forever and I would hate to see them having to close down.  One of them was helping to load rolls of turf into the back of a customer’s car. We’ve bought some beautiful roses from them over the years. They really do know their stuff.  They have remained open throughout lockdown, as well. You can do that sort of thing when you own the place.

Someone I spoke to on the phone at the weekend, from a chain of garden centres, said she had hated not working for so many weeks.  She loves her job and none of them had wanted to close but they had been told to do so by the government, of course. She was so happy to be back working, she said. I could hear it in her voice. We tried visiting there half an hour before closing, thinking we would be OK, but there was still a long queue outside, with no hope for most of those in it of getting in before closing time.

Also something to be considered: no point in queuing for half an hour or so, only to find they haven’t got what you want. This happens frequently in “normal times” let alone now. I do hope they are limiting people’s purchases, as well – a bit like the toilet rolls situation of a few weeks back. Though I like to think that gardeners are a little more civilised and wouldn’t descend into any supermarket-style shenanigans amongst the shrubs: brawling in the Berberis or punching around the Pittosporum.

We passed a flower shop open nearby. It looked busy outside, so perhaps it was selling other things as well. I couldn’t see. Or maybe people were just desperate for flowers.  You might argue that flowers aren’t an essential purchase but I think they are such a lovely, uplifting thing to treat yourself, or someone else, to. In fact, sod it, I’m going to do just that the next time we go out shopping. I’d love a separate cutting garden, here, for flowers only, but haven’t the space and I’d far rather see anything flowering staying out there. They last a heck of a lot longer, that way, in any case.

On one of the roads we drove down, there was a big sign that said: STAY ALERT. CONTROL THE VIRUS.  SAVE LIVES. So – an update from the previous signs we have been seeing everywhere, then. The STAY IN/STAY AT HOME ones.

We passed a pub, where a few people were sitting outside. I would never describe myself as a “pubby” person, since I rarely drink and only visit them for meals or to see bands, but I felt a definite pang when I saw those people sitting there; for all the world as though things were back to normal again.

On our way home, disappointingly plant-free but having had a nice little run-out nonetheless, we passed a police van blocking one of the roads in nearby Claygate.  Another case of domestic abuse, perhaps? As happened down our own road a couple of weeks ago. Or drugs, maybe? As happened in our area last week, when six men were arrested. STAY SAFE, EVERYONE!

 

 

 

 

SHOPPING:  PART THREE

ESHER

We paid another visit to the farm shop. No real reason; we just needed to get out and it’s a pretty drive. We could see the queue for the newly-reopened garden centre part wasn’t very long, so made a mental note to visit another time. I bought cheese and yoghurts. Very few places stock that particular cheese and I haven’t seen the yoghurts anywhere else, either.  Both are delicious. At least they didn’t turn me away at the till, crying: “These are not essential purchases, Madam!” (I would happily have bought more, but their prices are very steep.)

The friendly man on the till said it had been manic in there when lockdown first kicked off. I was a bit surprised by this, as it’s in a very posh and upmarket area and (cheaper) supermarkets are nearby. He said people were sweeping their arms across the products on the shelves, straight into their trollies, without even looking properly to see what they were. Consequently, the bin men were reporting hundreds of smashed and discarded eggs and rotting piles of food in all the bins. Greed and selfishness at its finest and go f*ck yourselves, eco warriors, doorstep clappers, the “be kind” brigade and community spirit!  It’s survival of the fittest (or the rudest) all the way…

Stocks are finally up to where they were, more or less, the man said, but he hadn’t been able to get any food for himself, his wife and small daughter at one point.

Back home, we had had the recycling bins emptied and, inevitably, bits of paper were floating about in the road. I picked them up and noted one was a shopping list (not ours). It made for very virtuous reading: peppers, tomatoes, lemons, tins of beans… I reckon they have an alternative list somewhere, which reads: Booze, fags, chips, chocolate and pizzas…

MOLESEY

We spotted a man staggering out of our small local Tesco absolutely laden down with packets of loo rolls. Hasn’t anybody told him we’ve moved on since then? The queue there was particularly long – we put it down to being a bank holiday weekend; normally, at that time, there is no one waiting outside and you can go straight in.

There was a huge queue for the chippy. Huge!  You have to ring to place your order first, and I hope they all remembered to do that. While we were waiting for our pre-booked order at the Italian, a man came in with his small son. “I haven’t ordered,” he said, slightly sheepishly. “There’s a 35-minute wait, Sir,” the waiter chirruped.  The man sighed heavily and they sat down to wait.  I wanted to tell him another Italian restaurant has re-opened its doors, for takeaway only, just down the road, but decided it probably wasn’t tactful, given where we were. The restaurant has two adjoining rooms and a good half of the second, larger room was stacked with piles and piles of empty pizza and garlic bread boxes, waiting to be filled.

COBHAM

The couple in the queue behind me outside Waitrose were having a very interesting conversation. Woman: “How long is he into his sentence?” I couldn’t hear the man’s response, as his voice was much quieter, but then she said: “I always had him down as a ‘by-the-book’ person.”

My mind was boggling away like crazy but, hard as I tried, I couldn’t overhear the rest of it.  Of course, seeing me whip out my notebook and pen and scribble their words down may have had something to do with it…

Shopping done, as I was waiting by the lift with my trolley, I noticed a small boy lingering nearby, looking longingly and expectantly over in my direction. I knew exactly what was going through his mind, so I called him over and said: “Would you mind pressing the button for me, please?” He looked overjoyed and, bless him, even said: “Thank you!” before his mother called him away. All little boys (and some big ones, too, ahem) love to press a button!

In Boots, where they are only letting three customers in at a time, a man was being very rude to the two young female assistants.  I will often wade in if I feel it necessary, in these circumstances, but I was so taken aback on this occasion and, besides, he looked a right bullying you-know-what, so, unusually for me, I kept my gob shut and immediately regretted it as soon as I had left the shop.

I don’t know what the poor young woman had done or said to him, but he shouted at her for being in a bad mood, for not being helpful and for not showing him any respect – and that she should be grateful she has a job. My wild guess is that he has lost his and is lashing out at everyone else. I pity his family, if he has any. Also, I doubt he would have said any of that if they had been men, young or otherwise, but we’ll never know.

He was still in there when I left. The young woman let me out and I said loudly: “You’re doing a great job. Most of us appreciate you being here. THANK YOU!” I hope he heard me.

We tried the huge Sainsburys just down the road, after that, but the queue was the longest we’ve ever seen it, so we knocked that one on the head and came straight home.

 

 

 

SHOPPING: PART TWO

KINGSTON

We’d not been here for a few weeks and I was keen to see what, if anything, had changed since then. I also needed a few things I couldn’t get elsewhere.

There were many more cars in the car park, and we had to park two floors higher than usual.

We thought that more people seemed to be wearing masks, and we passed an ambulance with three paramedics guiding a man attached to heavy-duty breathing apparatus towards it. It was a scary and sobering sight.

I was over the moon to see my favourite deli-café sign outside their shop. They are open for a limited takeaway service and, to support them, we bought coffee and tins of sardines. The owner still has lots of bags of dried pasta on his shelves.  My instinct was to give him a hug but we blew kisses instead. He said the government has been supporting them and he’s not making very much by reopening, but he had to do something. He was very bored at home. He is hoping more businesses will come back into Kingston, as quite a lot of his trade is takeaway hot meals for office workers’ lunches.  If more of them adopt the “working from home” strategy, though, he may still be in trouble, but let’s hope not.  It was lovely to see him open again – not least because I could use his loo!

A few doors down, another local business has also re-opened its doors – for limited takeaway drinks, cakes and pastries only during the week, but with a few more options at the weekends. We didn’t even try to resist the delicious banana and blueberry iced cake slices and the raspberry and almond “cakies” and polished them all off as soon as we got home.

Of the 75 stores trading in the Bentall Centre, only two are currently operating: Boots and Vision Express.

The benches in the precinct behind Marks and Spencer are taped up to stop people sitting down, but there’s always at least one moron roaming around – and today’s prize goes to the man perched right on the end of one of them.

Despite there still not being that much open, there were definitely more people about and I felt so happy to see positive signs of life starting to emerge. I wonder what’s going to be opening up next?

SURBITON

Virus? What virus? Corona? Isn’t that a drink? Social distancing? What’s that when it’s at home? And why are all the pubs closed? Good old subversive Surbiton! Still charging for its parking, too, where other places are not.

Sainsbury’s was trying its best, with solid, tall barriers between each till station – so high, I had to be told by a member of staff that one of them was empty and I could use it.

In the street, a couple of people were wearing masks, but that’s all. As I have said before, it seems to me that people who wear masks think they’ve done enough to be safe, but they are still coming far too close to others.

A shop which normally sells flowers is now, very enterprisingly, selling fruit and veg outside instead.

We spotted two food bank dropping-off points today.

My other sort of bank wasn’t open, despite the notice on the door insisting that it was.

Workmen were playing loud music from their van and I sympathised with all in the surrounding flats who must have heard it.

As I came out of the newsagents, a man held the door open for me and asked if there were less than ten people in there. I said I didn’t know, I hadn’t counted them. He tutted but went in anyway. There was no one on the door to check.

The bike shop was open. They must be doing a roaring trade at the moment. I have never seen so many bikers everywhere. Not just the usual goggled-up and lycra-clad gangs but families out together, helmets on, wobbling all over the road and riding two abreast. Small children on busy (ish) main roads. What are the parents thinking?! I can’t look. Between them, the bicycle and running shoes companies must be rubbing their sanitised hands in glee, while praying the gyms won’t be opening up again any time soon.

We did a little detour on the way home and passed our nearest garden centre. The gates were still firmly shut but there was a notice on them: Opening soon. Hallelujah! There were quite a lot of cars in the car park and, inside, I could see some of the staff flaked out on the benches in the café.  Exhausted, they were, having been up all night, cursing Boris and co as they struggled by torchlight to unload the constant stream of delivery vans overflowing with books and bird seed, greetings cards and grow-bags, pots and pet food, scarves and sandals, scented candles, cardigans, cuddly toys and cakes. Oh, yes – and plants, of course.

Meanwhile, the owner of this particular chain is probably cursing Boris and co as well. They were only on the news the other day, saying there were no plans to be opening any of their centres any time soon. ‘Bugger it,’ they must be thinking now, ‘I was really enjoying all those lie-ins and the chance to potter about in my own garden for a change. Better check we haven’t packed the Christmas crap too far out of sight. We’ll be needing it again in a couple of months’ time…’

 

 

 

 

 

 

SHOPPING: PART ONE

WALTON

We decided, for a change, to visit a local Italian deli, taking in the reclamation yard just down from there as well. Both are on the outskirts of Walton. (We haven’t tried the town centre itself for months.) It’s a small yard but I’ve managed to find some lovely old garden pots there over the years. I like that they’ve all come from local houses, as well – or gardens, rather, if we’re being pedantic. I was pleased to see the owner, forever referred to between the OH and myself as “Matey”. We chatted from a distance, with the high-wire fence between us. He lives nearby but I suspect he just needed a change of scene and everyone who walked past said hello to him.

He’s been talking about selling the business and moving to France for years now, but he’s still here.  He has a very close-knit family of ten – children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren too – and says he loves them all “to bits”, misses them hugely at the moment and just wants to hug them. I have a feeling France may have lost its chance. He’s also that much older, of course. He’s in his eighties, though he looks in his sixties to me. In fact, all the antiques dealers I know look a lot younger than their ages – it must be all that physical labour.  When a friend I’ve known for over thirty years ran her antiques shops on Richmond Hill, she was a one-woman-band and did all the lugging and lifting of the furniture herself.

Inside the deli, nobody appeared to be social distancing, despite a few people wearing masks and it felt slightly chaotic in there, so the OH waited outside. I wanted to support them, though, so I bought bread, sardines, fancy biscuits and pasta – none of which we really needed.

In the field next to the deli, we spotted a random emu in amongst the cows and sheep. It seemed a bit odd. Perhaps it had escaped from Chessington? Perhaps the other emus were hiding? Perhaps they were disguised as cows and sheep, for a laugh? Or perhaps it was one of the cows or sheep, dressed as an emu, for a bet? (OK, that’s enough perhapsing.)

MOLESEY

A shorter trip, here, to pick up a copy of the Metro at the completely deserted station, a quick look at and sniff of the river (I love that smell) and a brisk walk back home again, via the high street, where a few cafes are open for takeaway coffees and pastries, etc. The OH bought a coffee, which came with a free biscuit. They were selling crisps, bars of chocolate and cans of drink as well.

Two more local favourites have just announced their reopening for takeaways only. I’m pleased, though we will definitely be avoiding one of them, since it has an idyllic location down by the river and we haven’t been there since all this began, as the towpath is narrow in places and there are far too many cyclists and walkers (we have heard).

In a clothes shop, the window display was unchanged from two months ago and a top I rather liked the look of back then is still there, of course.  By the time we come out of this, we will have almost certainly missed out on my least favourite season for buying clothes – summer – and will be looking at autumn clothes instead. Hooray. It’s certainly saved us all some serious money, though it’s not so great for the businesses concerned, or their suppliers, of course. It makes a bit of a mockery of all those: “What’s in and what’s out” magazine features, doesn’t it? “What’s in this week? Same as last week, and the week before…” “What’s out? Nothing…”

COBHAM

On our way to Waitrose for our weekly fix of the moneyed and posh Surrey gentlefolk. Two enormous trucks are still blocking the entrance to Sandown racecourse, though the car parks of the notorious local woods have now reopened and are, predictably, chocker. (I suspect it will be business as usual come sundown, as well – no social distancing going on then!)

We joined the very long queue outside Waitrose, where a sign helpfully announced we had a twenty-minute wait ahead of us. They weren’t far off, but the antics of the elderly lady in front of me kept me entertained for some of it. I’m not sure exactly what she was doing: it could have been a mixture of ballet and pilates, with perhaps a bit of hip-hop and Northern Soul thrown in for good measure. (I’m joking, though she did look strange; in her own little world, bless her.)

The handle of the trolley was wet and I remembered they are very good at this branch (and probably all branches, as far as I know) about washing the trollies down each time they are put back. I’m impressed, as I haven’t seen any other supermarkets doing this.

The majority of people inside weren’t wearing masks, but those few who were seemed to think that made them immune to anything and everything and were not social distancing at all. Another poor soul, who had unwittingly tried to queue-jump earlier, was wandering around, too close to everyone else, with a perplexed and bemused look on his face, as though he had just been beamed in from elsewhere and didn’t know what the f*ck he was doing there.

A cross-looking woman rushed up to the ready-roasted chicken counter, which was completely bare. “Oh, no!  Oh, no!” she kept saying, eyes widening with horror at the realisation she might actually have to do some cooking that evening. I really wanted to direct her to the birds you can roast yourself but she looked so annoyed, I thought she might take a swing at me, so I didn’t. However, as I already had one of the aforementioned DIY chickens in my trolley, I suppose I could have walloped her back with that.  But no – we weren’t in the Surbiton branch now, I reminded myself sternly.

I waited patiently for assistance at the cheese counter.  No staff to be seen, but at least the counter was open for business, which is more than can be said for the large branch of Sainsbury’s just up the road. Their cheese counter is closed and, just to make the point, covered, as well. I don’t get why there should be any difference, but perhaps cheese isn’t so high on the agenda of your average Sainsbury customer.

Finally, a nice lady came bustling up. “I’m multi-tasking, today,” she confided. I pictured her racing around the store on turbo-charged roller-skates, lobbing loaves of bread, jars of pickle and dried pasta packets at the shelves, as she swept past and on into the storeroom, to pick up armfuls of fresh fruit and stuff tins of baked beans in her overall pockets, before gutting fish, slicing ham, straightening magazines and watering all the plants outside on her way to (wo)manning the Customer Enquiries desk in her lunch-break.  The woman’s a saint.  Someone give her a medal!

The OH fancies making bread, so he bought proper bread flour – yes, it was there again, people! – and yeast. I don’t remember ever making bread before, though I’m sure I must have done at school.  The memory of it is probably so ghastly, I’ve blocked it out. He’s on his own with that one!

Waiting for the lift with our trolley, the young staff member waiting with us cheerily announced he had had the virus but had had the tests and was all clear, now. I took the stairs. On the top floor of the car park, he exclaimed in dismay: “That’s a lot of trollies!” as he saw the used ones people had put back. I think he had been looking forward to his tea-break…

After packing everything in the car and returning our trolley to the aforementioned, now resigned-looking staff member in charge of the hosing down, the OH turned to me and said: “They do click and collect, here, you know.” “Yes, I know,” I replied, “but where’s the fun in that?!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sick of the same old, same old…

On our riverside walk today, we spotted a father blowing a dandelion clock for his young son and a family of four litter-picking with grabbers and a big plastic sack. Several couples were exercising together. Perhaps they don’t have the space to do it at home. The paths were choked with cyclists and there were more runners than at the London Marathon – I presume because the gyms are shut and they’ve got to take their exercise however they can. None of them appear to be that great at social distancing, though, and you’re not going to convince me they’re all from the same family or household.

Only the other day, a friend told me of her neighbours, who were holding a barbeque party in their garden and had invited ten people round. Meanwhile, for every idiot out there, others are anxiously following the rules to the letter and not even going beyond their own front doorsteps. Now that Boris has said we can go out more than just once a day (officially; some were doing it already anyway), let alone the other gubbins he spouted, which has left us all even more baffled than before, I predict utter chaos…

At the completely deserted station, the tannoy system was issuing: “A warm welcome to all NHS staff and key workers using our network today…”

Our walk takes in a beautiful, panoramic view of our local landmark: Hampton Court Palace. We feel privileged to live so close to this magnificent building, and it set me to wondering how the ghosts are all bearing up in there right now. For, whatever your own views on the supernatural, there have been many sightings and unexplained events by a great many people over the years, and they can’t all be making it up. I have heard some of the tales myself and I believe them. Something that old carries a great deal of weight from the past and its walls must be soaked with the stories and emotions of all who have been a part of it.

The ghosts are probably wondering where everybody’s gone. (I wonder if we are all ghosts to them? Discuss.) Do they even bother to go through the motions of haunting when there’s no ready audience, or are they forever trapped in a chain of events they can’t break? Where do they all hang out? Do they stick to their designated spots? (I’m not talking about the ones in the supermarkets.) I mean, they could have a lot of fun with the place all to themselves.

What do they make of the actors who wander around in period costume on special occasions? Do they think they’re one of them, or do they think they could have saved Equity the bother and done a much better (and, let’s face it, more authentic) job of it themselves?

This reminds me of the tale I heard recently from one of the guides. An electrician was working in a room and, after he had finished, commented to another guide how impressed he was with the actor, dressed in period costume, who had been standing nearby watching him work and who had “remained in character throughout.” Only to be told there were no actors dressed in period costume in the palace that day…

Everyone’s heard the story of Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife, trying to evade arrest (for adultery) from Henry’s guards and running, screaming, down what is now known as The Haunted Gallery. People claim to hear her screams to this day. It’s certainly got a slightly odd atmosphere. What was it called before? Let’s go back, way back, pre-CH and her ghastly fate, and imagine the conversation between a couple of the courtiers:

“Orders from Above. We need to utilise The Corridor. You know, that rather dull area upstairs the designers couldn’t work out what to do with. We’ve tried warming it up a bit with some colour, a feature wall, nice graphics, even, but nothing really works in there.”

“Hmmm, I know what you mean.  It’s such a loooong space – needs breaking up with something. I suppose we could whack a few paintings up and call it The Gallery. What’s missing is a good haunting; that might just work. Turn it into a more interactive, user-friendly space.”

We all know what happened to poor Catherine: she was caught and lost her head. But suppose, mid-haunting one day, she skids to a halt and decides to try another tactic? ‘Sod this for a game of soldiers,’ she thinks. ‘I’m sick of the same old, same old and besides, my throat really hurts with all that screaming,’ as she points to the far corner, yelling: “What’s that over there?!” and makes a break for it while the ghostly guards are momentarily distracted.  It’s a trick I used to deploy with my niece and nephew when trying to pinch some of their food at mealtimes (I was a horrible auntie), but they grew wise to it eventually. I must add they were toddlers at the time, not the adults they are now, though perhaps they’ve forgotten all that childish nonsense and I could try it on them again some time, heh heh heh…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The not-that-great old days…

The queue for our Waitrose shopping today is short and sweet. The other week, a woman read a book while waiting to go in.  This week, a man is showing off his stretching moves to his small daughter, who has no doubt seen it all before, and the rest of us, who are equally unimpressed.

The baking goods shelves are still pretty sparse, though sugar has started filtering back. What’s that I see, though? Some sort of mirage… it’s FLOUR!!!!  I can’t believe my eyes. Hastily, I phone my neighbour – the one we’ve been buying bits and pieces for these past few weeks. “They’ve got FLOUR!” I yell, causing nearby heads to swivel. “Oh, yes PLEASE!” she shrieks down the other end of the line.  We laugh hysterically and I grab both white and stoneground strong bread flour for her before anybody else can get there.

We’re all saying, “Excuse me,” “Please,” and, “Sorry,” even more than normal, these days, as we skirt around each other in the aisles and try to remember to keep our distance (doesn’t always happen, though). “We’ve never been so polite in all our lives,” trills one woman as we pass each other with our trollies. “You speak for yourself, missus!” I don’t say. “Some of us have been polite all our lives.” And neither do I need to be told to be kind, by the way – though I may have had a bit of a rant about this before, so I won’t go on about it now.

The nice man on the checkout says it’s only his third day working there. I say, talk about a baptism of fire, given the present situation; though probably not at this particular branch, and he agrees the people are very nice, which always helps.

I’m pleased to see the toilet and kitchen roll shelves completely full again. Phew. I’m pondering what could be next on people’s panic-buying lists. My friend in the Midlands supermarket thinks he knows: apparently, people up there have moved on from loo rolls and wipes to window and oven cleaners. Can they really be that bored? Or are those the very last areas to be “deep-cleaned” (whatever that actually is) in their homes? He adds that the queues are still pretty long, though.

I don’t want you to think I’m an out-and-out slut when it comes to housework, by the way. I’ve mentioned before that I hate dusting, but that’s only because we have so much stuff to dust around. If you don’t disturb it, it’s fine. I have a form of OCD: not too severe, thankfully, but enough for it to have been a right pain my entire life, and to ensure that none of my homes has ever been a tip. They are pretty tidy and organised, in the main. I clean, vacuum, sweep and change all the linens each week. But I genuinely don’t understand all this “deep-cleaning” stuff. Is it more virtue-signalling, perhaps? Like the people who clap for the NHS, then invite their neighbours/friends/family round to sit in their gardens for a nice chat?

Our next, much briefer shopping trip is to the nearby large Sainsbury’s. I need a few things I couldn’t find in Waitrose. No queue at all to get in there. Still busy inside, though. How on earth did we all cope, before Sunday trading? Actually, I can remember, just about and, if there was nothing else to do and no friends around to play with, I was often bored and fed up. So bored and fed up, in fact, I used to look forward to Mondays. If the office had been any closer, I would probably have gone in there on Sundays, as well, if they’d let me. But that’s another story and thank God life’s not like that any more.

Keeping everything crossed, it looks as though I might be able to add “Garden centre” to my weekend to-do list again. (If only I’d had a garden back in those awful, bad old days.) The OH says he can’t find the words to express just how thrilled he is at the prospect…

 

 

 

 

Enough for a splurge!

 

Just a quick trip around the corner, today, where we noticed more people out and about and a few more shops open, as well.  Oh, and the public toilets!  Now that really was a joyful sight, for me.  A member of our local residents’ association was busily planting up a flower-bed.  There were far too many people milling about outside a takeaway fried chicken shop and a huge queue in Poundland (I gave up). In all, there was a palpable air of: “We’re coming out of this now,” which made me feel uneasy, if I’m honest. Despite all the things I’m missing, I think it’s way too soon. The morons out there who are already disobeying lockdown rules will just carry on as before, with added swagger. I’m actually dreading it.

There was no queue to get in to Tesco. Once in, though, people were as confused as ever: going the wrong way up the one-way aisles and one man jumping the queue for the till because he hadn’t noticed the rest of us behind him, politely keeping our distance and standing on the designated spots on the floor. “Sorry, I don’t usually do this,” was his cheery response. “Goodness, where have you BEEN these past few weeks? And are we to assume your poor wife always does it, then?” was what I would love to have said to him. My face probably said it for me, though, as he slunk to his spot at the back of the queue.

No wonder people are still confused. Half the staff in Tesco were wearing masks and half not. We are finding this wherever we go.  We are not wearing masks ourselves – not yet, anyway.

Partly to support a worthy local business and partly because neither of us fancied cooking tonight, we bought takeaway meals – lasagne and beef curry and rice – from a local café. They have got to keep ticking over somehow, and are also doing a fruit and veg delivery service, takeaway coffees, etc. As are many others, of course.

It might too late for our local pubs, though. Some are trying to stay afloat by also offering takeaway meals but we were dismayed, though not surprised, to read that many have had to close for good and are now up for sale. We have visited some of these and passed others on our way elsewhere and could happily live in any of them (though not run one!), but don’t happen to have a spare million or so quid about us at the moment.

Mind you, with what I’ve saved on haircuts and other appointments, lunches out, books, plants, gigs and trips to all manner of places, I’ve probably got enough for quite a splurge when we come out of this. But not just yet, please!

 

 

 

Passing out on the parquet.

I was fascinated to hear that the friend of a friend’s daughter has started writing letters to everyone he knows. Proper, handwritten letters, to be posted, with stamps on and all. We’re talking teenagers, by the way. You know: that strange breed who spend their days glued to social media, sending pictures of themselves to all and sundry and who rely heavily on text speak. Yes, one of those. I’m impressed!

As for myself, I am heartily relieved I don’t need to write more than birthday or Christmas cards, these days. I have been ticked off for my terrible handwriting most of my life: from being threatened with moving down a grade at school because of it (it didn’t happen, phew), to an ex-boss, many years ago, telling me I would never get on in the magazine I was working on at the time if I didn’t improve my handwriting. I politely pointed out that the two people with the worst, almost indecipherable writing, were the editor and deputy editor of the magazine, and it hadn’t impeded their progress to the top. She couldn’t say anything to that and it was never mentioned again.

While on holiday in Cornwall one year, I thought I’d send a load of postcards to family and friends; only to discover, when I returned home, that none of them had been able to decipher my happy holiday ramblings. And on one occasion, my mother only received a letter from me because the postman finally managed to de-code my scribbles and work out the address on the envelope. “That,” said my mother, as the poor man retreated to have a nice little lie-down in his van, “is the handwriting of someone in a terrible hurry.”

I have to admit to sometimes having trouble reading my own shopping lists, and often find it helpful to draw little pictures of the items next to the words. To confuse myself even further, I have been known to put some of the items in shorthand. My own version of text speak, I suppose. I like to think it keeps my brain active, though it can all get a bit much, when, hours later, after arriving home and unpacking my bags, I discover I’ve bought yet another block of butter, when, on closer inspection and after studying the drawing, my handwriting and shorthand squiggle combined, I realise it should have been a tin of sardines. And to think I passed my Art A-level!

Talking of text speak, I am finding myself slipping into saying aloud such things as: “Atm,” or: “Btw,” or: “Tbh,” or: “Lol,” rather a lot, lately.  Well, it saves so much time, doesn’t it?

I was idly wondering about fly-tipping the other day. There must have been a lot more of it about, recently, due to all the refuse tips being closed. However, at least one of ours is about to open up again, albeit very heavily restricted and with a great long set of social-distancing rules. No doubt bracing itself to receive the results of Surrey’s lockdown clear-outs over the past however-many-weeks (I’ve lost count). I am embarrassed to say that we have done nothing – nothing! – towards the massive sort-out we ourselves need to do, in readiness for selling our house and downsizing in the near-future (long story).

When out and about at the weekend, we spotted a woman offloading a coffee table onto one of the skips currently blocking the entrance to a rather infamous car park adjoining local woods. I won’t repeat what it’s famous for – I have already done so in a previous blog, so you’ll just have to go back and read the whole lot until you find it. That’ll learn you.

Anyway.  The OH and I both agreed the aforementioned table was perfectly vile and not worth rescuing and I pondered over why I have never found anything really nice or interesting, let alone valuable, in a skip in my entire life. All I ever see in them is builders’ rubble and empty crisp packets.  A friend is always finding things, annoyingly, though I have benefitted occasionally from this. I have a thing for old garden pots – 68 at the last count – and some of the nicest have come via her skip forays.

I often read about people who find interesting items of furniture in skips and, once, someone boasted in a magazine about spotting a lovely old Victorian pine cupboard in the middle of a busy main road. There was even a picture attached. (Of the LOVPC, not the BMR. That would have been weird.) I imagined it to have fallen from an open boot, or roof-rack, with the poor driver doing a frantic and highly dangerous U-turn in the middle of said road a little further along, risking life and limb to dash back for it; only to find it had been swiped. (If I were the swipee, or swiperer (?), I think I might have kept quiet about it, tbh  – oops, there I go again).

I always wince at some point when watching the Antiques Roadshow. Someone tips up with a nice old decorative safety-pin they bought in a charity shop for fifty pence, which turns out to have been one of only half a dozen in existence, once used to keep Queen Victoria’s vast knicker collection together, or some such, and worth “at auction” a cool seventy-five thousand pounds. I really feel for the poor person who donated it to the shop, who is most likely staring at the telly in open-mouthed horror, before keeling over and passing out on the parquet.

Someone once found a valuable old dish at a car boot fair, which turned out to be worth many thousands.  It made the news at the time. Imagine being the poor hapless soul who sold it to them!  I think I’d have had to leave the country. It pays to rummage through those boxes which are always half-tucked under the table at these fairs, btw (oops again! See what I mean?). I found a nice old garden pot for a mere eight quid that way.  And a vintage print which, although it cost me a hundred pounds, is worth at least double that. It was mixed up with a load of other old prints in a box. But that’s as good as it gets in this household. None of that: “It’s been in the fam-legh since the Battle of Bosworth Field,” then it’s straight round to the auction house when told it’s worth a hundred thousand pounds, whatever it may be. Sod the “fam-legh” – they can fend for themselves.

The way things are at the moment, I wonder if there will be any shows or fairs to attend, this year. I really hope there will; not least because we are looking to sell things, not buy them, atm (and again!). We had, in fact, already booked and paid for a stand at a local fair later this month, in the hopes of offloading some of our accumulated junk.  Obviously, that’s not going to happen now. Maybe later on this year? Who knows? At this stage, it’s anybody’s guess…

 

 

 

 

One hell of a day at the office!

I don’t wish to start this post off in a morbid fashion, but anyway, I will. It was the 21st anniversary of my dad’s death on Friday and I was idly thinking about how he would have managed self-isolating. I reckon he would have coped with it very well indeed. He lived on his own for many years and was not overly sociable; though he did enjoy other people’s company, he was very content with his own.  So long as he had his fags (until his first stroke, when he had to give up a lifetime’s habit overnight, which was extremely hard for him), his endless cups of tea and biscuits to dunk in them, his papers, Private Eye, sport and sitcoms on the telly and his garden and garage to potter/tinker about in, I think he would barely have noticed any difference.

He loved driving, and it featured largely in his job in insurance.  Even though he used his car quite a bit during the week for work, he still loved to drive about at the weekends. He said he found it relaxing and it gave him a sense of freedom. So it was painfully hard for him to have to give that up immediately, as well, as soon as he had his first stroke.

The father of an ex-boyfriend, who had a very stressful job, would often take off in the night to drive away the frustrations of the day.  On at least one occasion, he ended up in Devon.  I should add that he lived in West London. That must have been one hell of a day at the office!

How would you explain that one away, in the current situation, if the police stopped you to question what you were doing on the road at that time of night?

Talking of stress-related driving and the West Country, I am utterly baffled by the couple who recently drove all the way to St Ives from Surrey, only to be caught, fined and told to turn around and go straight back home again. I know how long it takes us to get there from here – we can safely write off two days from our precious holiday, there and back – so what on earth possessed them?!  (They blamed their impulsive trip on “exam stress” but I feel that’s a pretty feeble excuse in such excessive circumstances.)

When I first heard this, my number one thought was: Public toilets, the lack of, and how did they manage? (It’s a bit of an issue with me.) Closely followed by: Had they really thought this through? What about eating and sleeping? If all they had wanted to do was be near the sea, there are plenty of beaches a heck of a lot closer to Surrey than St Ives, beautiful though it undoubtedly is.

Clearly, their biggest mistake, once they got there, was choosing to park in such a public place (on the pier, apparently).  They were reported by suspicious locals.  As the OH put it, they could have parked in one of the back roads and probably got away with it – for a little while longer, anyway. We are lucky enough to have lovely friends living down there, but I don’t think they would be too thrilled to see us in the present circumstances – even if we did just want to borrow their loo before heading back home again. To go all that way and not be able to do the rounds of meeting up properly with our friends, eating out, shopping, moseying around the art galleries and dipping our toes in the sea, let alone stocking up on pasties, fudge and fairings before heading back “up country” would be a completely pointless exercise for us. Then again, perhaps we’re not quite stressed enough yet… I’M JOKING!!