The Running Man on Thoughts of a Return (or Why You Can Never Take Too Long in Thinking Things Over)

After too many weeks of illness I am at last approaching normal health – my voice still sounds as though I have been gargling a combination of broken glass, maracas and dog whistles, but otherwise I can almost pass for well – my wife, however, a good week or so behind me in disease progression, remains quite unwell and so occupies a different bed in a different room – although she has yet to decide to leave the house.  She is not sleeping.  She reads, she watches TV, she thinks of all the things I haven’t done.  I know this because I lie awake listening to her.  She is the noisiest non-sleeper I have ever known.  Each time I stumble out of bed, trip over something, turn on the light, walk into the door, flush the toilet, turn off the light, walk into the other side of the door, trip over whatever I failed to pick up when I crossed the landing the first time and huff my way back into bed, I can hear her coughing.

My own cough, save for the obligatory morning hack, is now a thing of the past.  I am quite able to hold a conversation with anybody who is in the least bit interested in talking to me (so I don’t talk much).  I have yet to return to running – to be honest, I have yet to return to any form of exercise that does not involve chocolate or twelve year old malt – but I have begun to consider it.  Currently my mind is telling me that it is a good idea whilst my body is telling me to get a life.  Gulping down enough oxygen to make the end of the street is all that is currently holding me back.

I am left pondering upon a single unknown: have I taken so long to recover because this particular virus is insidious, ever-changing and particularly obstinate, or is it because I am getting old?  I scour the internet for evidence of the former.  I find nothing but proof of the latter.  My contemporaries are dying in their droves.  If you are my age and famous, you might as well hand in your cards: you are going to be on the news really soon.  I wonder if we are a particularly unfit generation.  I eat well (I refuse to believe that chocolate is anything but healthy), I exercise and I follow all of the doctor’s advice (except the bit about alcohol).  I am generally well (except for when I am ill) and I can still do most of what I want to do without stopping for oxygen.  I have four grandchildren and I would like to see them grow, but I want to enjoy them, and me, for as long as I can.  I refuse to wrap myself in cotton wool (knowing my luck, I would be allergic to it anyway).

We all know that for most people the last few years, months or weeks of life are less than ideal, so I figure I need to have some decent memories to cling on to.  If they involve me making a complete prat of myself, well… that’s fine.  It’s kind of what I think I’m here for.

My weight has risen just a little bit (in elephant terms) over this period of illness and inaction, but my blood pressure and my heart rate have stayed pretty constant, so I think a return to the running shoes may be imminent (if I can muster the energy to tackle the laces) and a first run of 2023 could be just around the corner (where, perhaps with any luck, somebody else might live).  Exercise bike first I think, then actual bike before putting in the plodding joyless running miles around the village, wondering when it was, exactly, that I became this stupid – perhaps a return to Couch to 5k might be the way forward.  I’ll give it plenty of thought.

It doesn’t pay to rush things at my age…

Should you wish to know where all this old age exercise nonesense started, you could do worse than look at this post from May 2020.

Whodunnit – Or At Least Where It Was Done

Back in the days of my yore (1979 according to the publishing notes) I purchased a beautiful little gem of a paperback book called ‘Life and Other Punctures’ by Eleanor Bron which has just fallen to hand because I am rooting through things in my office whilst I try to remember why I came in here.  For those of you who do not know the name, Bron was at the vanguard of the satirical comedy wave of the 1960’s, with the likes of Peter Cook, John Bird and John Fortune, and a well known film actress to boot.  Her book – the only thing of hers I have ever read – sits atop a pile of I really must read that again’s on a shelf behind my chair.  It is a joy of a book, but the font (what I almost certainly, way back then, would have referred to as typeface) is tiny, sub-microdot, and the concentration required to read it immense.  My particular copy (there may be others, I don’t know) is by Magnum Books (who were clearly finding paper difficult to come by, and sold I note, at a cost of 90p, which I think would have just about been enough for the deposit on a decent-sized bungalow in Torquay back then. 

Whilst the manuscript is, perhaps, not particularly long (35,000 words at a rough estimate) neither is it unduly short, yet the book is itself unnecessarily Lilliputian and, bizarrely I find I can only read it when I take my glasses off.  I regularly make the effort though because it is a thing of pure joy and I cannot recommend it highly enough.  It has no plot as such (so one less thing for me to lose track of) and merely recounts a couple of solo bicycle trips through France and Holland on a Moulton bike (a peculiar, small-wheeled contraption designed with the sole aim of making riding in a straight line almost impossible) bedecked with baskets, equipped with the wrong clothes and only a single spare shoe.

Now, I do not want you to believe of me (although it is true) that I have difficulty in holding the finer nuances of plot and character development in my head when I am reading a book.  Technically my recollection and understanding is second-to-none until I have to put the book down to make a cup of tea, smear on the sun cream or sleep (dependent on location) when things are apt to swim a little.  It is no problem, a short recap of the page or two before my bookmark is all I need to get me back up to speed, providing, of course, that I have not lost track of a character along the way.  The ‘hang on, who’s he?’ moments involved in the reading of Colin Dexter or Conan Doyle are sufficiently frequent to mean that my reading word-count is somewhat at a variance to the authors.  I never see the clues, or at least if I do, I never remember them until the detective jumps to the wrong conclusion about them.  I have the peculiar gift of remembering plot details as I re-read them, but to enjoy them as new none-the-less.  Knowing that a joke is coming does not, for me, diminish my appreciation of the skill with which it has been delivered.

So, having sat for several minutes reacquainting myself with the inestimable Ms Bron, it was time for cake and coffee and a trip back down the stairs, during the course of which I remembered why I went up them in the first place.  I remembered what I had done with the paper scrap containing the scribbled synopsis of the ‘great idea’.  I had gone up there to retrieve – except that recalling what I had done with it did not, I discovered, allow me any insight into where I did it.

Ah well, I’m sure that all will become clearer in time…

Feathers

Photo by Aman Bhatnagar on Pexels.com

When you reach my age you know, rather than believe, that Time Portals do exist.  Think of something at the bottom of the stairs and then ascend.  As you pass through the portal at the top, you have absolutely no idea of why you went up there.  Walk back down and as you pass through the portal at the bottom it all comes back to you.  Go back up and you remember exactly why you went up in the first place… after a while.  Obviously upstairs exists in a different time plane to downstairs.  Either that or nature has contrived a very particular way of ensuring that the elderly get sufficient exercise.  People of my age do not forget things, we merely misplace them: we accidentally leave them in the time and place where we first thought of them.  Time always moves on around us, but it doesn’t always take us with it.  And it almost always leaves the car keys behind.

The thing about memory is that although it has to exist in the present, it must, perforce, be part of the past.  Everything you remember has already happened, so who’s to say that everything you forget never did?  What lies in the past at the bottom of the stairs might just lay in the future at the top.  There’s no wonder you can’t remember it.  It’s all very well heading up the stairs to bring your winter coat down if, at the top, you haven’t brought it up yet.

The most sure-fire way of ensuring that you forget whatever-it-is that you seek to remember is to start the inner dialogue with, ‘I must remember…’  The conscious effort involved in the deliberate attempt not to forget is always sufficient to drive whatever you sought to remember right out of your mind.  Set off up the stairs thinking, ‘I must remember to ring Aunty Derek’ (we are a strange family in so many ways) and by the top you will be trying to decide what to have with the aubergines for tea.  The knowledge that you started the trek with a ‘must remember’ is enough to ensure that you will never dredge the information back to the front of your mind and, by the time you have given up, you will also have forgotten the aubergines and made soup.

Imagine then how interesting life becomes when what is being transported along this precarious route is an idea, perhaps little more than a thought, to be retained in the head for fourteen steps before being cyber-stitched into whatever confection is sitting open on the laptop following the last visit.  Imagine trying to hold that in place until you get there.  Step one may see just a couple of words become disassociated from the rest; step two may see a couple more swapping places.  By step three, that vital word that holds the whole thing together may well have slipped far enough behind the curtain as to have become too indistinct to recollect without a serious feat of focus.  By step four, the mind will have become so singularly absorbed in dragging this polysyllable back from the brink that all of its associates will have grabbed the opportunity to scarper – dragging the whole grand concept with them.  By the time you reach the laptop you have nothing there but feathers.

Oh well, at least it’s something…

Aah Yes, I Remember It Well…

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

…So, I know that I had an idea for today.  I was so taken by it that I wrote it on my, on the back of my, of my… I might be able to find it in my pockets if I could only remember what pair of trousers I was wearing.  Or was it pyjamas?  On a scrap of paper.  I wrote it on a scrap of paper.  I tore it from the… It must be in my trouser pocket.  I never wear pyjamas.  Not during the… you know, when the curtains are open.  I do in bed.  These days.  Containment is the secret at my age.

Gas bill!  It was a gas bill.  I wrote it on the back of a gas bill.  Or electric.  I wrote it on the back of a bill.  Could have been gas, electric, credit card, water rates… It was definitely a bill, I’m sure of that.  Unless it was a letter, although nobody writes letters these days, do they?  Except the insurance company.  I don’t think it was on the back of one of their letters.  They fill both sides.  Like… I was watching the football, no the darts, on the telly… It was a flyer from the man who wants to clean my gutters, my windows, repave my drive.  I ripped it off and put it in my cardigan pocket.  That should be easy, I only have one of those.  Blue.  Big pockets…

I found it!  Brown.  No pockets.  No paper in them, but it’s ok.  I remember now, I wrote the idea on my… you know, not lapdance, little grey job.  You lift the lid and… laptop!  I wrote it on the, I was drinking tea at the time.  I seldom drink tea but I was having a biscuit.  You know, black and white, swims a lot… No wait, it was coffee.  And a Hobnob.  I got crumbs on the keyboard.  Penguin!*  But it wasn’t a Penguin, it was a… I’ve just checked the crumbs.  It was a cheese sandwich.  I wrote down the… not needle is it?  PIN!  I wrote down the PIN so I’d… you know, so I could get the lapdog working.  I wonder what I wrote it on?

Never mind, my wife, my daughter, the DPD delivery driver, he got it working for me.  No PIN apparently.  One less thing for me to… I checked in my Documents, but there was nothing.  Forget!  One less thing for me to forget.  But there was nothing in my documents that I could, you know, find.  All good though.  The DPD driver showed me how to set up a Direct Debit.  Used his bank details as an example…

Not that it matters.  I realised when I gave the postman, Tesco driver, man in the cap the cheque, that I had written the idea on paper.  All I have to do is to find the… not pencil, I don’t use a pencil.  It wipes off on my sleeve.  Especially wool.  I would have used a pen, if I was wearing a cardigan…

I’ve checked the cardigan.  Purple.  Very small.  Would fit my…  No paper in the pockets though.  Wife!  It would fit my wife, not me.

I used a red pen.  I remember now.  I saw it on a pad near my… It was blue and the pad was, it had a frog on the cover, or maybe a skyscraper.  Or a pyramid.  Either way, I remember it clearly because my pencil was laid across it.  Titchy orange rubber on the end, should I want to…  except it was just an idea.  I wouldn’t… I would just scribble it out wouldn’t I, if I thought it was…

Anyway, let’s forget it for now.  I have a, what do you call them, a blog to write and I could really do with, the kind of thing I used to worry about in the… where was I?  Idea!  That’s it, I just need, not constipation, it’s…  I always write it down when it strikes unexpectedly.  Inspiration!  I always write it down when it…

I’m sure I had an idea when I started, I wonder where I put it?

*A chocolate covered biscuit, popular in the UK, best known for being advertised by a man with a stutter.

…Helps the Medicine Go Down…

Way back in time, when my salad days were but a Cos seedling twinkle in my mother’s limpid eye, she, in the absence of any manner of vitamin supplement outside of Bird’s Eye frozen spinach, spoon fed me Malt Extract in order that I should grow big, strong and healthy.  For those of you unfamiliar with it – anybody under sixty years of age – perhaps I should describe it to you.  Imagine carefully removing the chocolate layer from something like a hundred weight of Malteasers before, in the parlance of Masterchef, reducing the brown crumbly bit down to something with the colour of molasses, the consistency of bitumen and the volume of a small egg cup, and there you have what was thrust down my throat every Sunday evening in the years that filled the interim between romper suit and chalk-stripe bellbottom trousers.  I was lucky mind you, many of my friends were forced to imbibe Malt & Cod Liver Oil in its place.  Whether we could not afford the fishy additive or whether my mother knew that thus conjoined, she would have no chance whatsoever of getting the stuff down my throat, we shall never know, but, for whatever the reason, I was always offered my germinated barley juice without the added fish innards.

These, of course, were the days of Horlicks, Ovaltine, Bournvita and Milo: all malty drinks made with hot milk and designed to help the progress of the average hyper active tot into sleep.  I remember that you could also buy Horlicks Tablets, although what they were intended to achieve I am really not sure.  According to our friend the internet, malt extract ‘improves digestive health’ and ‘stimulates better mood’, especially when consumed in beer.  Anybody who has ever toyed with a homebrew beer kit will recognise the brown gunk in the tin as malt extract.  It is similar, in this form, to superglue, in that it finds its way onto every surface with which it has had no primary contact and from which it steadfastly refuses to be washed.  Home brewers will be fully familiar with the sensation of not being able to let go of the spoon.  It also has, I am told, fifty times the antioxidants of fresh broccoli.  I do not know what antioxidants are, but if these are the only sources, I’m happy to live without them.

A further consultation with Dr Internet tells me that cod liver oil is beneficial for heart, brain, mood, bones and in the treatment of arthritis – although quite detrimental, I assume, to the lifespan of the cod.  It would appear that combined, there is little that these two viscous goos cannot treat.  With such vastly enhanced mood, heart, memory and skeletons, it is a wonder to me that so many of my contemporaries died so young.  I presume that without it, they would not have made it beyond nylon ‘Y’ fronts and winceyette pyjamas.

So I have, of course, checked whether malt extract is still available and, it would appear, I have missed seeing it staring out at me from the shelves of every supermarket I have ever visited over the last forty years.  The stuff is everywhere and is, I am assured, perfect for spreading on bread or toast, or as a substitute for sugar in most baking recipes.  You can also make beer with it.  Malt extract and cod liver oil is also widely available – although this mutation seems to be found mostly in Health Food outlets, meaning that it is approximately ten times the price of either of its constituent parts – and is, I presume, less suitable for spreading on toast or bread and, probably, not so useful as a sugar substitute in baking – unless, presumably, you are making fish cakes.

Tempted as I am by the health benefits, I will not return to the weekly spoonful of yesteryear.  I will, instead, check how many pints of beer I have to consume in order to receive similar benefit.  In no time at all I will be as fit as a flea – especially when I replace the Horlicks tablets with Malteasers.  As for the cod liver oil, well, it is possible, I presume, to be too healthy – and nobody wants that at my age…

Testing

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I have no desire to put myself to the test these days because I have no need to find myself wanting in a whole new range of ways, but life… ah life… it has a different agenda.  The very best (just possibly the only) good thing about being the age at which I now find myself (other, of course, than not finding myself at the age at which I now find myself) is that I have, in almost all scenarios, lost the impulsive need to ‘test myself’.  By and large, I don’t need to; I know what the outcome will be.  I have never been forced into conflict, but I can quite easily imagine myself as a reluctant, conscripted soldier facing the tests associated with being dropped into a theatre of war: would I become a) a hero, b) a coward or c) one of the vast majority who does whatever it takes to survive?  I can be pretty certain it would not be a): I am not the stuff of which heroes are made.  I am the stuff of which ‘scared’ is made.  Nor am I brave enough to be a wartime coward, because wartime cowards get shot.  I do not have to actually test myself to know that I am c) one of the silent, disposable, majority: far too scared to be a coward, far too frightened to be a hero.  I know this; I do not have to test it.

By the time you reach your sixties, you know yourself pretty well.  I know, for instance, that I can handle any form of mental examination until boredom kicks in – which it does, of course, far more quickly when I am not equal to the challenge.  Having been recently given the GCHQ Puzzle Book, I am aware that I become instantly bored the moment I do not know the answer.  I know that my mind deals far better with the head-on than the oblique.  I am a disciple of the Times Cryptic Crossword, which I will stare at happily for hours.  I don’t mind not knowing the answers – I have long-since given up on trying to kid myself – but as soon as the realisation kicks in that I don’t even understand what the clue is pointing towards, mentally I down tools.  Once my brain has started to consider the ingredients on the Rice Crispies packet, there is no way back to 1 Across.  I know that I cannot solve the Rubik Cube because it is unsolveable: it is a conjuring trick, like those little linked pieces of metal wire you get in Christmas Crackers that most of us solve with pliers.

The days of the Grand Test may be long gone, but life continues to plonk little hurdles in my path, keen to see whether I am still up to the contest, or whether it needs to start ordering in the hormones that will, in the fullness of time, encourage me to walk towards the light.  Physically, such ‘tests’ to which I now succumb are significantly less strenuous than those of yore, but no less challenging: I know that I will never climb a Himalayan peak; I will not swim an ocean, run a marathon, eat my own weight in chocolate, but I do begin every day by attempting to put my socks on without holding the wall, brushing my hair without poking myself in the eye, putting my pants on without finding the labels at the front…

Getting old is life’s last great test and, sadly, the way in which we approach each of the little hurdles it throws in our path is not always ours to choose.  Age makes me ever-more conscious of all the things that I cannot control, but it does also teach me that although I might not be able to fix the holes in the roof, I don’t have to sit under them when it rains.  And I can see the sun so much better when it shines…

Sunnier

I am pleased to report that three weeks in the sunnier disposition of 2023 has so far survived influenza, New Year’s Day, my birthday and, at the time of writing, remains in place, tested, but as yet unbroken.  Now, before I start receiving acid comments – most of them from my wife – I would ask you to note that the word I so carefully chose (above) is a comparative adjective and not the more easily quantifiable simple adjective (e.g. sunny).  My sunny days, if ever they existed, passed long, long ago with Tank Tops, Cork Heeled Boots, tinned Pink Salmon and Tiger Nuts.  Not, I want you to understand, that I have ever been particularly morose – at least not for long – I am, in general, happy far more often than I am not.  I just, by and large, prefer to keep it to myself.

So, here is how sunnier works for me.  Life is full of ‘inputs’, each of which has any number of possible outcomes, ranging from the best possible at one end, the most likely in the middle and the inevitable crock of shit at the other.  Now, if I can somehow manage to lower the anticipated excrement level at that end, surely my disposition must automatically improve.  The knowledge that, like it or not, I will end up neck deep in the ordure, can only be lightened by the realization that it is unlikely to be quite as deep as it used to be.  In short, it is my intention to raise my faecal threshold against a background of a falling tide.

In fact, I wonder, could it be that the acceptance of doo-doo ahead, is in some way actually itself the source of my comparative sunniness?  Perhaps I am reconciled to always, ultimately, ending up in the muck: maybe the ‘bus’ of my life has ‘Poop’ on its destination board; I’ve paid my fare, I know where I’m heading, I can handle it – I’ve had a lot of practice – look at the shiny little smile on my face…

Perhaps I should clarify.  I have a very vivid imagination.  However bad things could possibly get, I can always think of something worse, so nothing – in my head – is ever quite as terrible as it might be.  Ipso facto, all in all, things are not too bad: they could always be much worse.

New Year came and went without a single substantial hit to either ego or id; my birthday passed without a solitary ‘dink’ to my mental armoury.  The outlook, as foreshortened as ever it seems to be at this time of year, holds nothing that troubles me more than it did a year ago.  I have resolved not to fear the unknown, because it is… unknown.  Unless anybody is able to tell me any different, it could be good, it might be bad, but it will never be that bad.  I have decided to drive with eyes ahead and not, for a change, fixed onto the rear-view mirror.

So here we are, a few weeks into the New Year – at what stage it becomes The Current Year, I am unsure – and whilst my expectations do not stretch quite as far as it being a good one, I am looking forward to not too bad, and I’m happy with that…

[Enter Post Title Here]

Photo by EKATERINA BOLOVTSOVA on Pexels.com

In my office – ok, I’ll come clean with you, I call it my ‘office’ but only because it has my desk and my laptop in it as well as (most importantly) my music, my books, my favourite photographs, odds and sods, trinkets, curios, and various elements of sentimental jumble (that my wife chooses to call ‘junk’), various guitars, a red ukulele, more pens than you (or anybody else for that matter) could shake a stick at, (I also have a stick), some shells, some mugs, a pair of ‘cowboy’ boots, my favourite hat, a secret stash of chocolate and a nerf gun – I have a signal booster for the internet router.  Well, I say booster only because that is what it said on the box when I bought it.  It was implicit.  I remember it clearly.  Big letters: the words ‘Signal Booster’.  Nowhere did it say ‘A little plastic box that you plug in – after a set-up process that should take five minutes, but actually ages you by five years – and watch as the little green LED lights flicker listlessly for a while before turning red and switching off your entire network’, even though that is all the bloody thing actually ever does.

Not all the time, you understand.  Not even regularly.  Just randomly.  Just after enough time has elapsed for me to forget what it was that buggered it all up last time, so that I have to go through everything again: every conceivable setting on the laptop, boot and reboot, router off/router back on, ‘What the f…?’ before remembering that all that I have to do is unplug the little plastic box, give it a minute to compose itself and then plug the bloody thing back in again.  It serves to remind me that everything in my house has a Primary Function that it performs sporadically and badly, and a Secondary Function that it performs diligently and, for the most part, covertly.

To my right I have a printer that prints what I want it to print from time to time, but mostly fails to do so: that generally prints, instead, the last thing that it refused to print a week ago, without explanation or excuse: that extracts more joy than it has any right to from mashing up a perfectly decent document before splashing it down onto paper sideways and in an order that could only be explained by Alan Turing, turning it into the kind of thing that is only otherwise seen printed in the instruction booklet for a Chinese digital watch.

Below it I have a paper shredder which steadfastly refuses to shred paper, but is very happy to pass its time by reminding me not to stray anywhere near electronic gadgetry whilst wearing a necktie.  It is also very efficient at puking out an acrid white smoke, specifically designed to prove that the alarms are not working.

Finally I have a piece of useless junk, just an arm’s length from my computer keyboard, that is designed to think of something entertaining to say every now and then, but mostly just stares vacantly at the screen and nicks the chocolate from my stash when it thinks I’m not looking.  Tonight I gave it the task of thinking up a title for this evening’s post.  It is currently wiggling a cotton bud in its ear.  It is reading the instructions on the toothpaste tube.  It has forgotten why it is here…

Unsubscribe Here

Because, well… aren’t we all?

This is the time of year when all my guardian pigeons come home to roost.

Because December is a month in which I spend most of my time saying, ‘I’ll do it after Christmas’, January is a month filled with Insurance Renewals and Extended Warranty extensions (the capitals are my own).  I watch the TV, I know that Extended Warranties (I’ve started now, so I can’t stop) are seldom worth the paper they are no longer written on, but attempting to stop the myriad purveyors of same from contacting me annually to remind me that I haven’t extended yet is something I take, on average, about 3,000 hours per domestic appliance doing.  Each little ‘Cancel’ button that I cyber-press brings a ‘Did you really mean to do that?’ email, followed by a ‘Follow this link to confirm that you really, really meant to do that’, and ultimately a text assuring me that, just in case I hadn’t really wanted to do that, in case I am so mentally enfeebled that I do not understand the implications of a button marked ‘I never want to hear from you again’, they will contact me again in a year’s time to check.

The general reaction to an ‘Unsubscribe’ request is ‘Hey boys, I’ve got a live one here’ followed by yet another email to check whether I really, really wanted to do that.  The whole frustrating rigmarole providing a signal to the kettle that it is time to noisily give up the ghost and trip the electrics for half the village while it is at it, thrusting all access to the internet into an inescapable wormhole and setting the little wheel on my laptop screen spinning into eternity.

Insurance policy renewals – as opposed to the five year conditional Extended Warranty on my tin opener – are not quite so easily ignored.  I have learned that I must not simply allow these things to auto renew as my reward for many years of loyalty is a premium that is seriously more than that of a newbie.  So, I become a newbie.  I re-register every detail from my renewal notice into a new on-screen application form that tells me, after several hours searching for my birth certificate, my marriage certificate, my ‘O’ level Art certificate; measuring my floors, calculating the average pitch of roofs and counting bathrooms (within the strict definition of the policy) that I do not exist since my email address has an unauthorised integer and my phone number is too long.  A simple typo of course, easily cured by an explosion of cursing and starting all over again.  My eventual reward is a policy that costs me only marginally more than last year’s, but does not cover damage to ‘sanitary wares’ – particularly annoying since I am attempting to renew my car insurance – resulting in a three hour on-line ‘chat’ during which I try (unsuccessfully) to persuade an AI employee that I did not intend to insure my home ‘Third Party, Fire and Theft’.

It is a month-long task that leaves me wondering whether I should subscribe to some kind of ‘We Renew Your Policies’ website – obviously based in Moscow – that deals with it all in return for nothing more than total access to my bank account details, medical history and a promise to allow anything up to one hundred people to open credit agreements in my name.  Also that I make a minimum of one kidney available for transplant on request.

But never mind.  I can unsubscribe next year…

Signs of Spring

It’s strange, isn’t it, that having enjoyed such a long and balmy autumn here in the UK and despite what December threw at us, the very moment the clock ticked onto 2023, we began to look for signs of spring?  It is the way we work: the more we ignore winter, the more likely it is to go away.  That December froze the noses off all those sadly deluded little pieces of flora that poked them out in the unseasonably mild November, thinking that April had arrived, is of no concern to us now, because April really is closer than it was then, and the clouts that I must not cast until May is out are already in the charity bag.

I have to admit that I quite enjoy the dark nights of winter, because nothing quite matches the thrill of hauling my multi-layered body through the door that lies between icy wind and lukewarm radiators, and not being able to see for five minutes because my glasses have steamed up.  Not daring to take my hat off for the fear of the kind of ‘hot aches’ in my ears that could force me to remove them with the bread knife.  Not realising that I have trodden in dog crap until it has thawed out on the door mat…  The coldest of the seasons does have its joys, although most of them lie in finding ways to avoid it: open fires, closed doors, hot chocolate and the kind of stew that substantially lined your arteries as a child.  When else can you come inside before you take your wellies off?  When else is it permissible to wear socks – although not tan leather brogues – in bed?  When else is it permissible to celebrate being on the face-side of a freezing nose by sticking it in a loved one’s ear?

I am notoriously unstable on snow and ice so I’m always pleased to see the back of that threat – there is a limit to how many times I can find myself on my arse before I get fed up with it – and, like everybody else, I look forward to reducing the number of layers I am forced to wear in order to keep warm (although not, these days, the thermal vest, which has something like a two week window in August to rest and recuperate before the temperature begins to fall again).  We are all happy when the thermometer climbs high enough for us to stop pretending that the central heating thermostat has broken.

The most important thing that spring brings is colour.  After a brief spell of snowdrops we get daffodils, aconites, crocuses, and bluebells – all of which lighten the soul even while warning of the impending ‘You will soon have to start mowing the lawn again’ scenario.  Each day the trees get greener.  Each day the weeds get longer.  Each day the evenings grow lighter and the threat of the barbecue season grows greater.

Time to start wishing for winter…