God bless medication! Life has been muffled for 10 days-ish, both metaphorically because I was aching and tired and stuffed-up and didn’t want to engage with life, and literally, thanks to Tuesday night when I decided to try a spot of nasal irrigation to clear the tubes and poured so much brine up my nose I went deaf. The opposite of the desired effect, in short. Ok not quite deaf, perhaps, but certainly with swingeing earache and a stab in the neck and piercing tinnitus every time I tried to blow my nose. Then I went to Boots, swallowed down some sinus medication and I’ve been feeling button-bright ever since. It was as I bounded south through parks and city last night, trilling away, that the contrast between feeling dreadful (last 10 days) and feeling fabulous (about three hours) really hit home.
The other thing that has been soaking up what little energy was left over from getting to work and back to bed again, is an idea of buying property. For years – really, years – I’ve been assuming that although in 1994/5/6/7/8/9, and, say, 2000-2013, I found conversations about property acquisition desperately dull, I was sure that dawn the day (let’s call it ‘last Friday’) that I myself felt an urge to shoulder a crippling debt burden, I would suddenly find topics as diverse as stamp duty and outdoor space and access rights utterly enthralling. Got that one wrong. It’s just as boring as it ever was, except now people expect you to care. In the golden-hued past I could plummet off everyone’s radar by shrugging and saying, in as snubbing a tone as possible: ‘I rent’. A bucket of cold water, that phrase is, cooling the ardour of the property bore. Unless they bridle slightly, perhaps even change colour, and say ‘Rent is dead money’, to which I’m far too polite to retort, ‘Not as dead as interest payments’.
See, I just assumed that it was one of those things that when you got old enough to do it, it would become a topic of all-conquering fascination, but sorry, kids: like sex and work and buying your own shoes, it doesn’t. My mother used to say that although one might not find other people’s children invariably compelling, ‘it’s different when they’re your own’. I always suspected, deep down, that she might be wrong about that – especially given that I was one of the children in question. Now I know: there are no guarantees. Buying property is mostly boring – why shouldn’t the same be true of rearing offspring?
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Before we take another step, do not read the James Lovelock interview in the Guardian. It sort of forms the whole point of this story, but I really don’t want to crap on your day. See, I read it and felt so awful afterwards that I spoiled a rare evening in the pub and woke up at 4 the next morning, so gripped with terror about the future (mine and the planet’s – shamingly in that order) that even whimpering didn’t help. Horrible. [In brief: it’s too late to do anything to reverse the damage we’ve done to the planet. Enjoy the next 20 years, because after that it will really kick off]
A few hours later I was on the train heading west to a funeral (yes, I CAN see that the prospect of this may have turned up the existential gas a notch or two) shakily sipping tea and trying to think positive thoughts. Raindrops on roses, brown paper packages tied up with string and crisp apple strudel all trundled past on the mental conveyor belt, to no avail. Phone a friend, I thought, before realising that a railway carriage at 70 per cent capacity is hardly the place to start bugling one’s despair. So I texted.
Now, I am not prone to existential wibbles, night terrors or losing the plot, as my correspondent well knows, so I indulged the blues and pressed send. Except my phat-phingered phuck-up directed it not to the friend but to a former colleague, who divides his time equally between Dublin and one-line-up in my contacts list. A charming chap, but we haven’t spoken in 10 years. No! No! Nonononono! An emergency response was scrambled, a massed attack of So-sorries, my-mistakes, how-are-you-anyways sent across the Irish Sea. And then a pause before his response, a politely puzzled throat-clearing and a lightly chilled suggestion to ‘Perhaps go out and enjoy the sunshine’. Christ, what if he thinks I’m suicidal or something?
Counterintuitively, this mortifying exchange in fact cheered me no end. Blushing to the roots of my roots and honking with horrified laughter had blasted me out of my silly emotional quagmire. Bloody drama queen. All of which I flustered in what now seems like an overcorrection that earned me another short silence and then a glacial two-worder from Dublin: Take care.
Death. Wish. Three. The phone was back in the bag and I looked out of the window for the rest of the way.
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Tags: climate change, fat finger, James Lovelock, texting
…because there really is no other way, is there? Not at the moment. Although the second tube strike has just been called off, the last one didn’t cause me much heartache because I used those funny things with the two hinges that stick out of the bottom of my arse. Plus when you travel on my kind of budget you get used to discomfort.
Still, they accumulate, all these notices of delays and cancellations, landslides and floods and washings-away. Last Friday, for example, I joined the stampede out of London through the bottleneck that is Waterloo. A landslip at Crewkerne had joined the jollifications further west and SW Trains had decided that the Exeter train should terminate at Salisbury, and passengers for the West Country would complete their journey on a rail-replacement, er, rail. Thus it was that we were decanted from our outrageously packed train at Salisbury and guided aboard another, larger, more comfortable, um, there really is no other word for it: train. Mysterious. In fact, so large and commodious was this emergency substitution that only two stations on the rest of the journey across three counties could accommodate it. Everyone wishing to disembark anywhere other than Exeters Central or St David’s would have to swing, bang and apologise their way up to the front six carriages. Eh?
Still, that was a well-oiled operation compared to Sunday, when suddenly there were no trains at all. Come 3pm on the Sabbath, half a dozen disconsolate strangers stood staring at a departures board that could only boast one train, going the wrong way, in two hours’ time. Then a bloke with a beard, baseball cap, fleece and tie barrelled along the platform and bellowed ‘I got a minibus outside. Gohna Salisbury. Get in.’ We all looked at each other, shrugged and obeyed. Apparently irked by Crewkerne’s attention grab, Gillingham had kicked its signalling to the kerb, and the Lord of Misrule had come to town. Buses and coaches were being whistled up out of sheds; trains were being shunted all over (‘Tell him he’ll have to go via Westbury’) and rail-company employees were positively trotting about, even the fat ones. ‘Everyone going to Gillingham, everyone going to Gillingham, FOLLOW ME NOW’.
Especially notable was everyone’s reactions, mostly kind and considerate, mostly good-humoured, invariably polite. Bravo Britain. Mind you, I can afford to smile wryly. I’m not travelling with children or steamer trunks or a heart condition. Nor am I watching rats swim through the drawing room of my luxury riverside property on the upper reaches of the Thames. Instead, I’m thanking the heavens that due to an immature but entrenched fear of debt I’m in rented accommodation which is owned by a lovely landlord who bought on top of a hill.
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Tags: bad weather, Crewkerne, flooding, Gillingham, landslide, London, rail delays, rail replacement services, SW trains, train cancellation, train delays, tube strike, UK floods
Reinstating pre-Christmas (or pre-December, if you’re going to stickle about it) moderation has been a big fat fail thus far. 5:2? Not even 6:1 really, unless you drive a tank over the rules and ignore the evening blowout. But yesterday marked the jump-start. Not because I watched Horizon: Fat vs Sugar on iPlayer (which I did on Friday, marvelled at the outcome and resolved to carry on as before) but because yesterday I did something so sickening that food and I are no longer on speakers. All hail the Unquelled Nausea Diet.
Sunshine at last, so I was in the garden, digging out the compost bins and distributing the plumbed yummies around the base of sundry trees and shrubs. Fork it in, I thought, mix it good. And then there was a lump of compost that had to be broken up. Next thing I’m 10 feet away, shouting, jogging about, flapping hands and retching. The lump wasn’t compost. I don’t know what it was – a toad, perhaps? A baby hedgehog? Christ, it could have been an alien in ballet pumps for all I know – buggered if I was going to hang around and find out. Whatever, it pop/crunched and leaked purple goo when I stabbed it with a fork. Discuss.
Aaaaaand feeling sick again. Yay.
Managed to get to a matinee of The Wolf of Wall Street too (what a great new year’s resolution that’s turning out to be!) and spent Saturday evening joking about how that cavalcade of arseholery made me *irony alert* want to jack in my job, sign up for the City and get a gigantic drug habit. Ha ha ha. But the horrible news about Philip Seymour Hoffman – and Ian Thorpe’s depression – makes that maybe not so very funny after all. Ha. Ha. Oh.
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Tags: 5:2 diet, compost, depression, drug habit, Ian Thorpe, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Wolf of Wall Street
If, as we get older, time is supposed to go faster, how is it that January gets longer? On we grind from Boxing Day, through the darkness, waiting for a million gallons of Valentine’s Day effluvia to be sprayed across every retail space and signal that spring is on its way. I’ve been trying to come up with ideas to brighten the weeks, ably diminished by the articles telling us to incorporate creativity and what we love into our work and then we’ll be happy. Humph.
This same non-punitive approach figured in my new year’s resolutions when I was put on the spot, burping softly with swiftly necked prosecco, at my neighbour’s house. Devised on the hoof, they will apparently be re-presented in 12 months and their progenitor asked to grade how far they’ve been put into practice (the neighbour’s a teacher – could you guess?). Hence the prosecco chug and the ur-resolution, which was to let ‘easy’ and ‘nice’ be my watchwords. No getting to base camp or learning Welsh. Thus it was that I told a room full of strangers that I was determined to throw away my socks when they get holey, and to go to the cinema more often. ‘Easy’ and ‘nice’.
I’ve been to the cinema once – to see American Hustle, which was fabulous. But it was thanks to the trailers that a muddled career plan has emerged, one that incorporates those damn resolutions, creativity and the pursuit of happiness. It was the trailer for Out of the Furnace (plus the fact that creatively speaking, my socks are off-limits – eeech, they’d be leprous-looking glove puppets) that cracked it.
I’m going to write a screenplay! Here are just some of the lines and characters that I shall be placing in my scriptwriting grab-bag, jumbling up, dropping – read dem bones – and typing up.
‘He’s my brother’
‘That’s not my problem’
‘This IS hell’
‘Go ahead, kill me’
‘You made your choice’
‘Everybody has secrets’
‘You’ll never understand’
‘I gotta go’
Guns – several. Fistfights – many. Woman – one, distraught, tangential. Torsos – bare, oiled. Lighting – blue/grey to contrast with honey-hued flashbacks of domesticity.
And off I laugh to the bank – creatively satisfied and richer than God. And if that doesn’t work, I’ve got some wannabe glove puppets living in my sock drawer. Cha-ching!
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Just back from the first of the longer-distance weekend wanders. It had been planned for a long time and involved wheedling an invitation to stay with some old friends. The wheedling technique deployed – should you ever need such a device – goes: ‘Hi xxx! How are things? Listen, I’m going walking down your way in a few weeks. Can I come and stay?’ A blunt instrument, you might say. Certainly not a polished stealth attack, but equally it’s not as forthright as it could have been. It could have been: ‘Can I pitch up at your house on Saturday afternoon just before sunset, a mud-spattered yeti having o’er-topped my boot in a dreck-filled pothole at the bottom of your road while leaping out of range of a speeding plumber’s van? Cater as if for a baby elephant who likes cake.’ I was only there for three meals, but as I had seconds of everything – that’s EVERYTHING – that surely counts as six, no? Though my hosts are fantastic cooks and their eldest daughter, a slip of a 13-year-old, has a way with a Mary Berry cookbook that tightens a waistband.
It was good to be out with a map and compass again. Packing up the rucksack and catching an early train on Saturday morning to Witley (an unremarkable name but it’s near Haslemere) made me feel like a dog whose owner is putting on a coat and reaching for the lead. Although thanks to assorted weather reports the anticipation was heavily spiced with apprehension. Route-planning was subject to revision even as Woking came and went, my face getting longer and longer as great paddyfields of floodwater slid past the window.
Devoid of anything approaching local knowledge, I did the next best thing and stuck a pin in the map. Not quite, but not far off. I tried to avoid anything whose name featured any element of brook, spring, ford, marsh, bottom, pond or, er, sewage works. Something tells me, for example, that the owners of Smallbrook Farm may no longer consider their property so daintily placed as winterbournes turned into mill races and ducks swam across orchards. Instead I tried to stick to places that incorporated ridge, hill, view, prospect, fair, high or beacon somewhere in their make-up. As an aside, last week I was fact-checking an article about property and saw a lovely house in an Essex town called Thorpe-le-Soken. Still, Le Soken? Sounds like Anglo-Saxon for ‘floods like a bastard’.
The thing is – as I had leisure to conclude having made a noise like a donkey climbing up out of Hindhead golf course and quelling a funny turn at the top – hills is all very well, but the landscape around Haslemere is what geologists call varied, experienced walkers call a bit uppy-downy and I call Jesus God you’re taking the rip. It’s also very sandy soil, unlike the chalk of my homelands, and it makes for heath that is just gorsey, piney, brackeny and unbelievably easy to get lost on. Thank God for the compass. Even so I had to fall on the mercy of a dog walker, a tall, competent-looking gent in his early 60s, who confided as he led me to safety that as a new arrival to the area he’d once got so lost he had to report himself missing to the police. Oh Lord, don’t let that happen.
Anyway, as intimated earlier, for all my nose-tapping cleverness, I still had to platch across marshes, negotiate torrents over slimy rickety plank bridges, crawl under fallen trees and hand-over-hand it along verges past lakes of mud. And let the record show, when your rucksack is 3kg heavier because you’ve filled it with wine and chocolates to thank your hosts, your centre of gravity is all over the place. And yet it was glorious. I can’t wait to get out again – but where to next?
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Tags: Bramshott, English country walks, English countryside, Haslemere, Liphook, Surrey, walking, winter walking
Ah, the new year. So fully tanked with good intentions. Unfortunately, my intentions are running counter to those of Her Majesty’s revenue commissioners, who have issued me with such a whopping tax bill that I saw stars for a minute or two after I’d pressed submit. The year might have opened (and the last one closed) with vague plans of spending more time cantering about between ancient market towns and/or relatives embarrassed into putting me up for a night, but now the Treasury abacus beads have clacked and it’s going to be weekend wanderings until late spring. This was triggering the blues somewhat, until last Sunday and a very jolly walk with friends along the Beverly Brook Way, which took us from the fleshpots of New Malden to Putney Bridge.
Here we are early on and relatively unmuddied. In fact, I’m already fretting that I’ve got us lost and, although it looks as if I’m staring at puddles in horror, I’m actually asking Conor whether he has managed to get the compass app to work on his phone.
The compass doesn’t work on my phone; that’s why I’m carrying sheaves of paper. Instead, I am texting another chum, Jane, who should have been with us but couldn’t manage a walk owing to a not-entirely-eradicated virus. I’m asking about where to meet her for lunch, although that happy event was still some hours away. The answer, incidentally, was Carluccio’s. God, I love London.
And this is Brendon the cameraman being dead artistic with his phone. It’s good to know that if I want to make a crap 1960s concept film there’s a cinematographer with an eye for portentous oddities in the vicinity.
But I’m not the only one with good intentions. A housemate has signed up for a course of Spanish lessons for the bargain Amazon Local price of peanuts. Or it might have been a song. She’s only had one lesson so far, and apparently the teacher was so nervous she spent most of it jigging about the room. Still, I’m hoping that the phrases have come on a bit from the laboured chit-chat about chairs and colours and siblings’ ages that scarred my childhood. Useful stuff like ‘Forget it! You’ll never transit via Madrid in less than three hours’, or ‘I don’t care if you love him – we are NOT carrying his mate’s bag through customs’. The teacher’s nerves have not as yet carried them much beyond ‘Hola!’ Though that’s got me through three holidays in Ibiza and one in Sierra Nevada, so what the hell.
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Tags: Beverley Brook, London walks, New Malden, Putney Bridge, Spanish lessons, tax bill, walks in west London